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Community Solar Conversations: Exploring the Potential for Renewable, Affordable Energy

Community Solar Conversations: Exploring the Potential for Renewable, Affordable Energy An Urban Planning Studio University at Buffalo, School of Architecture and Planning

Monica Boutin • Dylan Burns • Jim Cielencki • Lauren Darcy • Domonique Griffin Emily Moll • Taylor Reynolds • Wenzhuo Shao • Will Siegner • Erin Sweeney Professor: Zoé Hamstead Spring 2018

Table of Contents

Community Solar Conversations

Acknowledgments Abstract Introduction

I. Conceptual Framework: Food Energy Water Nexus II. Multifunctional Design

Community Solar

I. How Community Solar Works II. Community Solar Ownership Models III. Benefits of Urban Community Solar IV. Case Studies

Planning and Policy Framework I. New York State Policy II. Regional and County Initiatives III. City of Buffalo Planning Context

Neighborhood Context

I. Demographic Analysis II. Northland Beltline Corridor Project

Project Context

I. Project Partners II. Community Solar Projects across the Buffalo Region III. Potential Limitations to Community Solar in Buffalo IV. Application of the FEW Nexus at Project Rainfall

Workshop Processes and Outcomes I. Workshop Preparation II. Workshop 1 III. Workshop 2

Recommendations and Implementation I. Recommendations for Next Steps II. Recommendations for Model and Design III. Funding Opportunities

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Conclusion References




I. Contact Information for Case Studies II. Community Solar: Workshop 1 Glossary of Terms III. Community Solar: Workshop 2 Glossary of Terms IV. Additional Resources







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We would like to acknowledge the many people who have contributed to, and participated in this project. We thank Beverly Crowell, and the Northland Beltline Taxpayers Association, for her time, support, and generous feedback. We are also grateful to our partners Rita Hubbard-Robinson, CEO of NeuWater & Associates LLC, Eric Walker, Independent Solar Energy Advocate, Antonina Simeti, Executive Director of the Western New York Environmental Alliance and Groundwork Buffalo, and Jason Kulaszewski, Clean Energy Coordinator at the UB Regional Institute, for their considerable expertise, thoughtful guidance and enthusiasm for this project. For their creative design work, we would like to thank the UB Graphic Design Studio and Professor Stephanie Rothenberg. We also thank Adam Flint of the NY Energy Democracy Alliance and Dave Stebbins of the Buffalo Urban Development Corporation for taking the time to help us learn more about community solar and the Northland Beltline corridor development.


Abstract Buffalo, New York is a rustbelt city where an abundance of aged housing stock has resulted in energy inefficiency and a pattern of high utility bills. In an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the financial burdens of clean energy, New York State established a number of initiatives that support businesses, organizations and community members in their quest to become less dependent on traditional energy sources. Solar energy is one of the most popular renewable energy sources that residents use today. However, residential solar is more prominent in middle and upper income neighborhoods. More communities across the nation and across the globe are piloting community solar models that make solar energy more accessible to underserved communities. Given state investments in the tech and solar industries and Governor Cuomo’s investment in a workforce training center being built in Buffalo’s Northland Beltline Corridor, community stakeholders have identified Buffalo’s Northland Beltline Corridor as a high potential site for community solar. In order to gauge community interest in participating in a community solar project and applying for a pre-development grant, students at the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning facilitated two community workshops. This report explains community solar and the benefits it provides, discusses the neighborhood context of the Northland Beltline Corridor, details the processes of community engagement, and provides recommendations for how residents may be able to move a solar project forward.

Community Solar Conversations

engaging residents in the possibilities of community solar. The idea for a semester-long student practicum grew out of a multi-stakeholder collaboration. The initial and ongoing group of stakeholders include representatives from Project Rainfall, Western New York Environmental Alliance (WNYEA), Buffalo Urban Development Corporation (BUDC) and the University at Buffalo Regional Institute (UBRI). This group came together based on different types of expertise to sow the seeds of a potential community solar program hosted by Project Rainfall. In order to get started, students at the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning developed and executed two workshops with the Northland Beltline Taxpayers Association (NBTA) members with support and input from the project partners listed. In order to facilitate workshops, students learned about the theoretical background underpinning solar and community solar projects as well as examples of projects. The goal of this process was to begin introducing members of this community to community solar and generate a list of interested participants to move forward on a pre-development grant for a solar installation on the Project Rainfall property.

The following report is the result of a practicum project to develop community workshops


Introduction As the world’s population continues to migrate toward cities, and shifting weather patterns affect communities around the world, resiliency has become a key strategy for insulation and fortification of self-sufficient systems. Resilient communities are those that can -- due to a series of systems that provide alternative forms of daily needs provisions -- withstand external shocks, such as extreme weather events, shifts in climate patterns, or economic crises. Those systems might include urban agriculture, in-ground thermal heating systems, and alternative sources of power (Godschalk, 2003) As interest in neighborhood resiliency grows, energy costs are rising for many households across the United States. For low-income families, electric costs can comprise a significant portion of their monthly budget. Renewable energy has emerged as one solution to reducing individual and household energy consumption. Unlike wind or hydroelectric energy, power from the sun may be harnessed by individuals. People around the country have indicated a preference for solar among resilient energy types. Over the past 15 years, solar energy has become drastically more affordable than at its inception (Augustine and MacGavsick, 2016). Although the theoretical accessibility of solar makes it a popular option, due to roof structural issues, shade, and lack of ownership, many homes in the United States are unsuitable for solar. Less than one percent of households have solar panels installed on their own roofs (Augustine and MacGavsick, 2016). Although the economic burden of rising energy costs may disproportionately

Community Solar Conversations

affect low-income households, individual solar installations are also economically out of reach, and therefore not reaching the majority of the population that may benefit most. Disparity in access to renewable energy projects have led community leaders, activists, scholars and municipalities to search for more equitable strategies (Aylett, 2013). Community solar has emerged as a strategy to improve accessibility and efficiency of solar for residents within a specific geographic area. Community shared solar refers to a solar-electric system that provides power and/or financial benefit to multiple community members, who may also own the array (Coughlin, 2011). States across the United States are designing policies and programs that incentivize utility companies, private developers, and nonprofits to launch solar projects. In New York State, the Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) initiative seeks to increase the total amount of renewable electricity generation to 50 percent by 2030. To demonstrate its investment in the future of clean energy, the state is backing the initiative with taxpayer dollars. Because taxpayers are inherently contributing to the initiative, there is further incentive for local communities to explore options such as community solar to increase accessibility (Coughlin, 2011). Community solar addresses some of the ecological challenges of large-scale solar array (or multi-panel) installations. In rural areas, solar arrays may be located in areas with vegetation or former farmland, and the panels’ physical presence may have adverse consequences on


Community Solar Conversations

the surrounding ecosystems. Urban community solar projects may be sited on brownfields, vacant lots, or existing municipal or private buildings or warehouses, giving unused surfaces new purpose (Moore-O’Leary et al, 2017). Community solar may also produce benefits that go beyond reduced energy costs and ecological protection. Although there are not many community solar examples around the country, existing project leaders note the possibilities of increased energy autonomy through decreased reliance on utility companies, increased community action and organization, and sense of satisfaction in participating in renewable energy production. During the spring of 2018, students in a practicum at the State University of New York at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning sought to develop community workshops that would engage residents in exploring the possibilities of community solar in the Northland Beltline Corridor neighborhood in Buffalo. The idea for the semester-long student practicum grew out of multi-stakeholder collaboration. The initial and ongoing group of stakeholders represent a range of interests, including a new nonprofit health and wellbeing project paired with a social enterprise, an alliance of over 100 environmental groups in Western New York, county planners, and a regional research institute. This group was brought together based on different types of expertise to sow the seeds of a potential community solar program hosted by the food systems social enterprise, Project


Rainfall. In order to gauge interest in solar among community members, students at the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning developed and executed two workshops. The workshops were targeted to a local neighborhood group, the Northland Beltline Taxpayers Association (NBTA). In order to facilitate participants’ learning during the workshops, students researched the theoretical background underpinning solar and community solar projects as well as examples of existing projects. The goal of this process was to begin introducing members of the Northland Beltline Corridor neighborhood to community solar and generate a list of interested participants to move forward on a New York State pre-development grant for a solar installation on the Project Rainfall property. After conducting the two workshops in partnership with community residents, students developed a series of recommendations for the team of project partners that hopes to move the initiative forward. More broadly, the report offers a model for other community leaders, cooperatives, municipalities, related businesses and/or nonprofits to learn from and utilize in their own efforts to make solar more tangible, affordable, and accessible to residents in their own cities and neighborhoods.

Figure 1: Solar Energy and the Community Infographic Credit: Justina Wolanin

Community Solar Conversations

I. Conceptual Framework: Food-Energy-Water Nexus Understanding the interactions of systems at play in any micro or macro region help frame the impact a single system may have on the ecological, social, economic, political, and technical sectors of a larger city-region. The system resources of food, energy and water are basic needs (perhaps even rights). In many cases in our society, the management and lack of synergy among these resource systems have negative ecological impacts, remain underutilized or manipulated for economic gain, and create further inequities in their distribution (or lack thereof) (Moore-O’Leary et al, 2017; Sharifi and Yamagata, 2016). The interactions among single systems is called a nexus, or a cycle in which elements of each system interact with each other, with a result or output that may lead to benefits for a certain targeted process, population, or idea (Bizikova et al, 2013; Moore-O’Leary et al, 2017). One way to conceptualize a food-energy-water (FEW) nexus is to consider the process of growing corn. Without any human influence, corn grows by allowing the systems of rain and sunlight to cause the seed to grow and produce food. In the system of modern food production however, the system needs to produce mass quantities of corn, efficiently and reliably, which is not possible using only natural patterns of sun and water as inputs. Therefore, farmers must add chemical fertilizers and pesticides (inputs) to the soil to protect the crops to increase yield. Farmers must consider the cost vs. benefit of the inputs (i.e. the


increased profit from additional corn is worth the monetary cost of the fertilizer and time to apply it). In addition, the inputs may have short-term benefit, but might disrupt or harm the natural systems that already exist over time. These negative consequences can include nutrient loss in the soil, contamination of water sources from pesticide runoff, and excess fuel costs to apply the chemicals. Beyond the scope of the farmer’s control, there are a series of external dimensions that influence whether the corn harvest will be successful (e.g. extreme weather events, market price fluctuation, increase in seed cost, policies that prohibit certain chemicals). Energy, food and water systems do not exist in a vacuum. The strength of the nexus, in contrast to the systems existing alone in silos, is based on whether one system’s strengths can build upon or generate additional benefits from another, and limit the amount of negative consequences that may result from the interacting systems. For example, a farmer can purchase a large-scale composting unit (called a digester) to turn natural farm by-products into methane gas, which can be used as an alternative source of energy for electricity or fuel for the tractors. Adding natural fertilizer (i.e. compost from food waste on the farm) to the soil before planting seeds puts waste to good use, increases soil productivity and reduces the amount of chemical pesticides needed, which has a positive impact on the water supply. In some cases, there may be no change in the outcome from leveraging components from one system to benefit another (a neutral reaction). Even in the case of no change however, the cost of the inputs

Community Solar Conversations

(time, energy, money) may cause the process to have a negative overall impact. A strong food-energy-water (FEW) nexus in which the three systems lead to greater positive outputs may then propel greater health and wellbeing for people, communities, and the environment. Based on existing research, there are at least seven criteria at the foundation of the nexus - accessibility, affordability, acceptability, availability, redundancy and multifunctionality. When the nexus addresses questions that arise from each of criteria, the outcomes of justice and renewability are more likely to occur. The seven criteria could be applied to the city, regional, state and national levels (Bizikova et al, 2013).

Accessibility - Can the target participant (land, people, economy) physically reach the benefits? Affordability - Does the cost of engaging in the systems work for the budgets of the people participating, or for a business or other entity?

Redundancy - Are there backup systems in the case of one of the system’s failure? Will the backups adequately mitigate any negative consequences of the original failure? Multifunctionality - Do the three systems work together to enhance any existing outputs that one system alone could not produce? There are a variety of dimensions that are outside the food-energy-water (FEW) nexus that influence the internal systems, and one another, in a variety of ways. They are split into factors that are contained within three categories: external forces (over which the entity has no control), available resources (which the entity can take advantage of), and individual agency (about which the person or entity can make decisions). The eight dimensions listed are not exhaustive, but provide a deeper understanding to provide explicit examples which better define the foundational criteria above (Bizikova et al, 2013; Sharifi and Yamagata, 2016).

Acceptability - Are the systems congruent with the culture, vision and goals of the participants? Availability - Do the technological systems needed for each system to function well, and to link the systems where needed, exist? Are other technology systems needed? Adaptability - Can the systems shift based on external shocks, such as change in market demand, price of inputs, or weather?


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Table 1: External Forces on the FEW Nexus


External Forces


Highlights and Synergies

Governance and Policy (local, state, national)

Regulations, land use decisions and zoning, water and sewer management, incentives or tax credits, Monitoring and assessment, SEQR regulations, NYS Renewing the Energy Vision initiative

Local regulations and zoning would include 20-year lease agreements for solar installation. Although the project would not have agency over existing policies, there may be human capital capacity to influence new legislation through advocacy and demonstration of success in the FEW nexus. Â

Urban Landscape

Street and sidewalk conditions, presence of lighting, parks, waterways, slope and aspect of land, quality of soil, presence of contaminants, available roof space for solar, presence of community institutions (schools, churches, community centers), surrounding land uses

The quality of soil and any contaminants would impact the reuse of any ground or rainwater, and where/if food may be grown on-site. If soil contamination is an issue, it may be ideal for the technology design choice of ground-mounted solar.


Changes in seasonal patterns, extreme weather events, flooding, drought

Extreme hot and cold weather during winter and summer seasons can impact individual health, and behavioral factors (such as reducing a household food budget to cover high heating costs in the winter). Severe weather may reduce the amount of energy produced by solar panels, therefore shifting the financial conditions that impact the site, and increasing reliance on other, non-renewable energy sources, and can prevent certain crops from germinating.

Behavioral Factors

Dietary preferences, disposable income, amount of energy and water consumption, interest in engaging in energy and cost saving initiatives

The median income of the neighborhood may be significant factor in whether community members are able or choose to participate in community solar, or farmers markets (due to real cost or perceived expense).

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Table 2: Available Resources for the FEW Nexus Dimensions


Highlights and Synergies

Human and Knowledge about compoSocial Capital nents of FEW systems (e.g. farming, energy production, harvesting rain water), connections to relevant stakeholders in the community (churches, block clubs, businesses), community buy-in and interest in collaboration, other solar advocacy work in the community, presence of leadership team

To launch a community solar project, community buy-in is essential, and may require participation from the presence of other entities that comprise the urban landscape, such as churches, to make it financially viable. To capitalize on the possibilities of the FEW nexus, content expertise and a leadership strategy are required.

Financial Conditions

State governance and policies incentivize and encourage solar installations among utilities, developers and non-profits, which may lead to more feasible project costs; however, this synergy can fail easily with political shifts. Market shifts (e.g. cost of lettuce) in grocery retailers may incentivize (or dissuade) potential customers from purchasing locally-produced food. The impact of external financial conditions may be reduced through by-product management, to reuse any waste produced.

Incentives for alternative/ renewable systems, market demand for renewable energy and local food, cost of system construction/installation, interest from private corporations in sponsorship and support, availability of grants (local, state, national)

Table 3: Individual Agency on the FEW Nexus Dimension


Highlights and Synergies

Technology and Design

Distance to nearby substations (energy grid), type and design of solar panel installation, multifunctionality of site structures, desire and capacity to remediate contaminated land, use of porous surfaces and rain collection techniques

The urban landscape and existing ecological conditions of the land may determine the possible options for food and energy system synergy. Solar panel installations may serve as natural shading strategies for vegetation, or parking areas. Remediation of land makes food production possible, but may have significant costs associated. Climate shifts that lead to uncertain water availability and growing capacity.

By-product Ability to shift waste/by-prodManagement ucts to other facilities or projects, capacity to recycle outputs back into own system

Opportunities to turn food waste to compost reduces the cost of fertilizers. Greywater generated in the building may be filtered through the aquaponics system and used to water the plants.

Community Solar Conversations

The food-energy-water (FEW) nexus framework -- including the criteria and dimensions-provides a foundation to understand the impact of external dimensions on each system (food, energy, and water) in the nexus. The synergies (or trade-offs) based on external factors, available resources, and individual agency, demonstrate the opportunities for mutually beneficial overlap, as well as the barriers that might exist for one area with the success of another (see Highlights and Synergies in table above for some examples) (Bizikova et al, 2013; Sharifi and Yamagata, 2016). The framework may be applied to any scenario or geographic level. Regardless of the scope of the FEW nexus, the systems create synergies that may be leveraged to reach the larger specific aim (health outcomes) and overall societal movement toward more just, renewable provision of the FEW resources. The food-energy-water (FEW) nexus could apply to any microcosm or level of analysis, including the site where Project Rainfall is located in the City of Buffalo. In any scenario, there are site-specific FEW systems and dimensions related to the surrounding neighborhood and regional contexts. Section IV of Project Context applies the FEW nexus framework to Project Rainfall, to understand whether there are positive outcomes from the interacting FEW systems on site that would help Project Rainfall meet its goals.


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II. Multifunctional Design The concept of multifunctional design has increasing popularity and efficacy in the context of the urban landscape, for the potential to address modern urban challenges. Practitioners are addressing the challenge of maintaining healthy urban ecosystems in the face of pollution, overcrowding, rapid development, and rising temperatures through green infrastructure. For a city, the multifunctional landscape approach might best be applied through green infrastructure planning. Broader ecosystem services in urban areas must be informed by and salient for urban residents, which requires a participatory planning process targeting multifunctional green infrastructure, through small-scale projects (Lovell and Taylor, 2013).

numerous real-world ecological experiments, including buildings, landscapes, and other infrastructure, with ecologists working alongside landscape architects, urban designers, and local residents (Felson, Bradford and Terway, 2013). The collaboration between ecologists and urban designers permits experiential learning and, through an iterative process, leads to improvement in the layout, aesthetics, construction, and post implementation monitoring of urban green infrastructure projects. A multifunctional landscape can serve as an adaptive strategy to build urban resilience in the face of climate change, water scarcity, food insecurity, and limited economic resources in the future (Lovell and Taylor, 2013).

Multifunctionality aims to combine different functions and use limited space more effectively (Ahern et al. 2011). Multifunctional green infrastructure might include integrating solar panels into urban farm operations, or gravel pathways through park systems to mitigate stormwater flooding (Rieke et al. 2014). Community solar projects provide opportunities to consider multifunctionality with existing infrastructure (mounting the panels to empty rooftops to provide cooling in hot months), or to create additional benefits (such as acting as covered pavilions in parks) to area residents. Practitioners in multiple fields are turning greater attention to ecological stewardship through urban design experiments. Various multifunctional designs have been applied to


Community Solar I. How Community Solar Works Solar energy production in the United States has increased dramatically over the last decade, from 58 megawatts (MW) installed annually in 2004 to 6,201 MW in 2014 (Augustine and McGavisk, 2016). Residential solar is responsible for a significant portion of the growth in solar energy production as the cost of installing a residential solar system dropped approximately 50 percent during this time period (Augustine and McGavisk, 2016). Even as demand for solar continues to grow, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that 49 percent of households are unable to host a photovoltaic (PV) system because residents either do not own their homes, live in a multi-residential building, or the rooftop space is insufficient for a PV system (Augustine and McGavisk, 2016). Community solar, sometimes referred to as community shared solar, has emerged in response to this unmet demand for solar energy production. Community solar can be understood as a PV system that generates power and/or financial benefits to multiple community members (Augustine and McGavisk, 2016).

Figure 2: Basics of Community Solar

Community Solar Conversations

Multiple stakeholders stand to benefit from community solar. Beyond directly supporting a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, residents that subscribe to a community solar project (depending on the specific terms of the project) have the opportunity to accumulate revenue when energy produced by the photovoltaic (PV) system is sold to the local utility company. Subscribers may own a panel or a share of the PV system, and the value of the energy produced by that panel or share returns to the subscriber through a bill crediting system called virtual net metering. Subscribers therefore have the opportunity to reduce their energy bills when participating in a community solar project because they are able to subsidize the cost of their own energy consumption with the value of energy produced by their share or panel of the PV system. Community solar enables a broad array of participants (including renters, homeowners with shaded roofs, low-income residents, medium-income residents, schools, businesses, community centers, or places of worship) to lower their energy costs.


Community Solar Conversations

Investing in community solar provides benefits to communities through flexible access to clean, renewable energy, reduced energy bills, potential for job creation and workforce training, increased neighborhood engagement, and educational opportunities. On a larger scale, increasing the volume of solar energy production reduces climate change-causing greenhouse gas emissions and pollutant emissions that cause negative health impacts (Augustine and McGavisk, 2016). Utility companies also stand to benefit from developing community solar projects for their ratepayers, or from simply buying energy produced by community solar projects developed by another entity. Community solar offers utilities an opportunity to satisfy increasing consumer demand for renewable energy. These projects also help satisfy state and local renewable energy requirements. Moreover, utility companies may consider offering community solar in an effort to mitigate increased usage of residential photovoltaic (PV) systems. Utility companies face increasing pressure to stabilize their customer base during the proliferation of residential photovoltaic systems that reduce customers’ reliance on energy provided by traditional, centralized utility companies (Funkhouser,, 2015). Despite growing interest in community solar and changing regulatory frameworks to encourage the development of community solar projects in some states, market growth is restricted by a variety of factors. In states with low retail electricity prices and little or no state incentives for renewable energy, justifying


an investment in community solar can be financially difficult (Feldman,, 2015). The cost, as well as technical and legal complexity, associated with launching a community solar project can also be a deterrent. At the same time, this complexity has led to the growth of innovative ownership/operation models and the emergence of businesses specializing in implementing community solar. Middle or low income communities interested in starting a smaller community solar project because of funding restraints also face barriers to implementing an effective project because community solar capitalizes on economies of scale; the larger the array, the more cost effective the project. A “lack of legal precedent, market research, and data on project successes� have similarly played a role in stunting the growth of community solar projects (Feldman,, 2015).

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II. Community Solar Ownership Models Various models of financing community solar projects have emerged across the country in recent years. While these models often involve a variety of different stakeholders and are heavily influenced by state and local policy, they can be generally classified into three broad categories based on the owner of the solar array. Community solar projects may be utility-owned, community-owned, or third party-owned (owned by a for-profit or nonprofit entity). The ownership model of a community solar project affects participant costs, benefits, and responsibilities. Different models work for different communities, depending on needs, criteria, and access to funds.

Utility-Owned In utility-owned models, a local utility would finance, construct, own, and operate the community solar project. Under most utility-owned models, any ratepayer within a geographic area defined by the utility would be eligible to participate in the project and receive credits on their electric bill. There is some variation across utility-owned models in terms of the cost of subscription or participation. While some projects -- like Buffalo’s Fruit Belt Neighborhood Solar Partnership -- require no subscription cost, others -- like The Sacramento Municipal Utility District -- require a fixed monthly fee (National Grid, 2016; Coughlin, 2011). Participants of the Fruit Belt project receive credits based on the total amount of solar electricity produced

through the project, divided equally among all participants (National Grid, 2016). Participants of the Sacramento project receive credits proportionate to the amount of their subscription, and the amount of solar energy produced through the project (Coughlin, 2011). Generally, participants do not have to undergo credit checks to subscribe to utility-owned projects because these projects are funded by the utility. Despite some variation, the utility-owned model is a highly accessible model, especially for communities without ready access to private capital. However, as the utility finances, maintains, and operates the project, there is hardly any meaningful community control over the design and construction of the solar array or with the terms and conditions of the subscription.

Community-Owned Under a community-owned model, a group of community members would form a limited liability company (LLC), through which members could finance, construct, and own a solar array and all the energy produced by the array. In this model, community owners make decisions about the many terms of participation including subscription rates, array design and location, cancellation or moving fees, and workforce requirements. Through power purchasing agreements, community owners would retain funds generated through the sale of solar energy produced by the array. However, the cost of financing the construction of a solar array is cost prohibitive for many. While federal and state tax credits are critical to bringing down the cost (especially the federal Investment Tax Credit), community 13

Community Solar Conversations

residents must have sufficient tax appetite to take advantage of these incentives. As a result, some community solar LLCs partner with a ‘primary tax investor’ with enough capital and tax appetite to finance a large portion of the project and effectively utilize federal and state tax credits. The community-owned model requires legal, technical, and business savvy to form an LLC, design an economically viable subscription model, recruit a ‘primary tax investor’, and provide overall project administration (Coughlin, 2011).

Third Party-Owned Under a third party-owned model, a for-profit, or nonprofit entity would own the solar array. For-profit solar developers offer community residents the opportunity to buy a solar panel (or a share of solar energy produced by solar panels) within a larger solar array that is developed by the for-profit entity. The cost of initial construction and ongoing maintenance is included in the purchase price offered to community residents. For-profit entities can take advantage of federal and state tax credits and pass the savings along to project subscribers. Participants would receive the proportionate value of the energy produced by their investment. However, the purchase price to participate in a for-profit owned community solar project may be cost prohibitive for some and often requires interested community residents to undergo a credit check or apply for a loan. In a third party-owned model where the third party is a nonprofit, a nonprofit entity develops and maintains a solar array. While 14

nonprofits are not eligible for tax credits to reduce solar installation costs, they are eligible for grants and other foundation funding (and private donations to nonprofits are typically tax deductible for the donor). As nonprofits lack profit motive and are often organized to provide some form of community support, nonprofits may be more responsive to community input than other models and therefore more likely to develop a community solar project in a way that principally benefits community subscribers. For instance, a nonprofit owner could require local hiring for installation, choose not to require credit checks for subscribers, and return a greater portion of energy savings to community subscribers. Beyond the substantial variation across (and within) the three different models, it is also possible for a community solar project to ‘flip’ from one model to another (Coughlin, 2011). A nonprofit entity might cover the start-up costs of developing a solar array and then transition ownership of the array to a community limited liability company (LLC).

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III. Benefits of Urban Community Solar Outside of providing a more sustainable source of energy, there are additional benefits and positive outcomes from solar installations in an urban environment.

Heat Island Mitigation As the global population rapidly increases, it is also urbanizing. Cities are responsible for 60-85 percent of global energy consumption and 70 percent of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions (Ma et al., 2017). These factors, along with Earth’s rapidly warming climate, continuously worsen the impacts of urban heat islands (Masson, Bonhomme, Salagnac, Briottet, & Lemonsu, 2014). The urban heat island effect describes the phenomena of higher temperatures in urbanized areas compared to the surrounding suburban or rural areas. Warmer average temperatures are a global phenomenon but additional heat in urban areas results from the high density of people and buildings creating waste heat, and the building materials infrastructure, which adsorb greater amounts of solar energy (U.S EPA, 2008). Higher temperatures present risks to inhabitants, particularly in summer months. Extreme temperatures or heat waves lead to more hospitalizations and higher rates of mortality as well as decreased human productivity levels and threats to infrastructure. Solar energy systems have potential to be used strategically to help reduce the urban heat islands in cities by absorbing energy and putting it to productive use. Solar panels are

designed to absorb more solar radiation, and reflect less than other surfaces. This reduces temperatures because the energy that is normally radiated back is used to produce electricity. This serves an additional function of cooling by reducing reliance on fossil fuel powered technologies (Ma et al., 2017). Thus, solar installations could aid in cooling urban areas while offering additional benefits of risk reduction for humans and infrastructure, and increase productivity (Ma et al., 2017).

Climate Change Mitigation Non-renewable sources of energy, such as coal, natural gas, and oil, are limited in supply and are depleting at a faster rate than they can be replaced. When used to produce energy, non-renewable resources release greenhouse gases which contribute to global warming trends and destabilization of our global climate. The pace and intensity of climate change we are experiencing is a largely anthropogenic phenomenon driven by burning of fossil fuels (Gunderson, Goyette, Gago-Silva, Quiquerez, & Lehmann, 2015). Climate change has the power to affect human health and well-being, as well as regulating processes in the natural environment; some of the major impacts include sea level rise, melting of polar ice sheets, more frequent and extreme weather events, unpredictable weather patterns, and species migration and extinction (Pearce, Santini, & DeSilva, 2009). Climate change is a global phenomenon that impacts the world globally but it does have local effects as well. As the cities populations continue to grow, more people will be exposed to the urban heat island. In order to sustainably meet our energy 15

Community Solar Conversations

demands, we must reduce dependence on fossil fuels find alternative sources of energy, particularly in urban areas. Solar energy is a renewable energy source that produces electricity using direct solar radiation. The use of fossil fuels is reduced and little to no harmful pollutants are emitted into the atmosphere through the use of solar panels. More specifically, community solar projects allow any community member to play a role in reducing their carbon footprint and minimizing the effects of global warming through the offsetting of air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions (Masson et al., 2014).

Financial Savings Community solar allows for participants to lower their energy bills with inexpensive energy production. When one participates in a community solar project, credits from the electricity produced are credited to participant’s monthly electricity bills (Figure 3). There are federal, state, and local tax incentives, credits, bonds, grants, and rebates that can lower solar installation costs. Many solar projects receive a Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), which reduces the overall cost of installation from one’s federal taxes by 30 percent. Commercially owned systems are eligible to receive federal tax incentives that reduce installation costs by almost 56 percent. Tax incentive eligibility varies depending on the sponsorship model of the community solar system, but business structures are developed in order to maximize the ability to receive incentives and lower the cost of community solar installations (Coughlin et al., 2010). Community solar can 16

reduce energy costs significantly, by up to 40 percent (Coleman, Blank, Probst, & Waller, 2017). Participants will be saving money in the long run with community solar and usually after a number of years, will have generated enough energy that it had already paid off any initial costs (Energysage, n.d.).

Financial Savings A brownfield is “a property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant” (US EPA, 2014). Previously used as commercial or industrial sites, they vary in size, condition, and location, and are regulated by state and federal agencies. Programs for remediating brownfields are in place, but not all brownfields qualify or get funded. The most productive reuse of brownfields is to redevelop them into brightfields. A brightfield is a way in which large, underutilized sites can be used for solar energy

Figure 3: Financial Benefits of Community Solar and Virtual Net Metering Image Source: Energy Sage

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production, further advancing the implementation of clean, renewable energy technologies around the United States (“Environmental Law and Policy Center” n.d.). Nearby residents and businesses benefit from the credits being put on their bills from the electricity production, while reducing the economic burden placed on the surrounding community (U.S. DOE Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, 2005). Due to the low-cost access to the electrical grid, readily available and unobstructed sun access, and the size of sites, many vacant brownfields are perfect for brightfields (Goodbody, 2016). In Hackensack, New Jersey, 4,000 solar panels were installed on a six-acre site that previously housed a gas plant and gas storage facilities. This site didn’t require extensive clean up, like most brownfields do, and can now provide additional benefits to this community (Nunez, 2013). Design requirements still need to be met and sometimes there are site constraints. Landfills and other brownfield sites may have steep slopes or impenetrable surfaces, making the construction difficult. There are ways around these limitations though. In Massachusetts, “a custom ballasted racking design” for their solar panels was used, providing a specific tilt raising the array, on a few capped landfills (Zipp, 2017).

cycles and food webs, and fragments habitats (Moore-O’Leary Kara A et al., 2017).

Solar development in brownfields is a more environmentally friendly option, compared to solar development in greenfields. Developing greenfields has negative effects on the surrounding natural environment. This solar development can unintentionally destroy ecosystems that provide regulating services, such as carbon sequestration, reduced erosion, pollination, climate regulation, disrupts natural

Employment Opportunities

The U.S. Government and state and local governments provide incentives for participating in the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Brownfields Program that turns brownfields into ‘brightfields’. In order to improve the economics of brightfield projects, governments commonly offer incentives to solar developers and brownfield owners (Goodbody, 2016). Grants and technical assistance are offered for sustainably reusing contaminated properties at the federal level through the EPA’s Brownfield Program. Many local governments offer similar incentives (Wisher, 2017). New York City is an example where professionals, such as engineers, planners, consultants, and attorneys, are partnered with solar developers and are provided free liability and remediation consulting services. In Oakland, California, developers are offered risk-based project standards and a remediation loan fund that is continuously replenished (Zipp, 2017). In North Carolina, funding for brightfields can be accompanied by EPA grants and state tax incentives to redevelop brownfields, reducing costs even more (McLoud, 2015).

The renewable energy industry is much more labor intensive than the non-renewable industry and has the potential to create a great deal of local jobs. Solar jobs include engineers, electricians, solar panel manufacturers, system designers, salespeople, and field installers (Solar United Neighbors,


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2017). The solar industry itself employs twice as many employees as the coal industry and five times as many as nuclear energy, while solar only contributes a small percentage (~two percent) of all energy generated in the United States. In the U.S., the solar industry has 250,271 employed as of 2017, experiencing a 4 percent decrease since 2016. In 2010, there were only about 93,000 jobs, but since then there has been a 168 percent increase in the solar workforce. In Minnesota, the workforce has grown by 48 percent, continuing to lead the country in renewable energy development. The City of Atlanta has almost 3,000 jobs, with the solar industry growing 21 percent in a single year (The Solar Foundation, 2017). North Carolina’s solar industry has seen a steady increase in job creation between 2007 and 2014. After investing $2.7 billion into clean energy infrastructure, the state created 19 percent full-time equivalent jobs during this time (McLoud, 2015).

Educational Opportunities Solar installations can provide education opportunities to teach youth and local community organizations about renewable energy. In the U.S., 5,489 schools (5 percent of total schools) have solar installations, helping to promoting clean energy production and sustainable futures to younger generations. Since 2014, the combined capacity of installations has doubled to 910 megawatts. The increase in solar installations is due to the significant decrease in price for schools to install solar panels, dropping 67 percent since 2007 (The Solar Foundation, n.d.). Solar for Sakai is an example of a community solar 18

project that has solar panels on the roof of the Sakai Intermediate School in Bainbridge Island, WA (Coughlin et al., 2010). The solar installation provides live system performance data to be used as an educational tool in the schools classrooms as well as an interactive kiosk in the schools library that allows visitors to learn about the solar energy system and its benefits (Ellison, n.d.).

Co-Location: Vegetation and Energy Production The term ‘co-location’ is used to describe the “deliberate production of vegetation and energy in a single location.” Community solar installations can be integrated into natural landscapes and vegetation. Solar panels can be placed strategically in vegetated areas, minimizing the changes made to the natural landscape in a way that promotes growth, attracts pollinators and improves stormwater management, while providing energy at the same time (Macknick, Caspari, & Davis, 2017). There are also many types of plants which could grow beneath solar panels because they flourish in partially shaded conditions, are low-height, and don’t require intensive harvesting. Agricultural fields can produce energy with elevated solar installations alongside sun-tolerant and shade-tolerant crops. On unused or deserted land, or land used for grazing, by not touching the existing vegetation, planting shade-tolerant plants, elevating the solar installations, and allowing for continued grazing, there is a focus on both vegetation and energy. Depending on the type of vegetation, solar installations that are integrated with vegetation could have

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lowered operational and management costs for agricultural lands, along with reduced installation costs because there is no longer a need to remove the vegetation. On grazing or agricultural land, solar installations can provide an additional source of income to land owners without disrupting their crop output. There are many opportunities for co-location, where these approaches can be used to integrate vegetation growth into renewable energy production without making major changes to the ecosystem (Macknick, Beatty, & Hill, 2013) (See Multifunctional Design above).

IV. Community Solar Case Studies

Edmonds Community Solar Cooperative - Edmonds, VA Sponsorship Model: Community-Owned Community Benefits: • Provides discounted, clean energy to Frances Anderson Community Center, reducing city operating costs and pollution • Educational resource for Edmonds community Community Participation: • Ownership of a “SunSlice” portion of the solar installation, $1000/panel • 100% return on investment over time The Edmonds Community Solar Cooperative is a community-owned cooperative in the city of Edmonds, Washington. The community solar project is a public-private partnership supported by the local utility, Tangerine Power. The solar array is located on roof of the Frances Anderson Community Center, which is owned by the city. The community center provides many benefits to the neighborhood, including gym space, after-school programs, and adult programs. 19

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Grid, Solar Liberty, and NYSERDA to install community solar for residents in the Fruit Belt community. The Fruit Belt solar project is a 500-kilowatt system that encompasses 36 city blocks on the roofs of neighborhood residents (National Grid, 2016). Subscribers will receive a monthly renewable energy credit of approximately $15 on their bill and their participation will enable National Grid to test the efficiency of rooftop solar concentrated in a single neighborhood. The project will serve as a model for utility-community partnerships in non-traditional markets.

Fruit Belt Neighborhood Solar Project - Buffalo, NY Sponsorship Model: Utility-Owned Community Benefits: • Project subscribers reduce electric bill by 15-20% monthly • Low and moderate income resident access to renewable energy Community Participation: • PV systems installed on 100 houses in the Fruit belt (500kw total capacity) • Any resident of Fruit Belt community with a National Grid utility account is eligible for participation • No cost to subscribe • National Grid provided some local workforce development training through project construction The Fruit Belt Neighborhood Solar Project is a collaborative effort between the BNMC (Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus), National


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Jefferson Park - Seattle City Light - Seattle, WA Sponsorship Model: Utility-Owned Community Benefits: • Community events are powered with clean energy • Public access to innovative power production at picnic shelters • Reduced energy bills for subscribers

solar installation and anyone with a City Light account is able to purchase solar units which equate to a share of the community solar array. The utility credits each customer on their bill statement for their portion of the power produced by the community solar array. The Jefferson Park community solar installations are models for multipurpose use and integrated design capabilities of solar installations. community solar for residents in the Fruit Belt community. The Fruit Belt solar project is a 500-kilowatt system that encompasses 36 city blocks on the roofs of neighborhood residents (National Grid, 2016). Subscribers will receive a monthly renewable energy credit of approximately $15 on their bill and their participation will enable National Grid to test the efficiency of rooftop solar concentrated in a single neighborhood. The project will serve as a model for utility-community partnerships in non-traditional markets.

Community Participation: • Utility Discount Program: Income-qualified customers can reduce their electric bills by 60% • Each unit is expected to generate about $29 annually in credit • Flexibility in participation - customers can buy 1-125 units The City Light community solar program is a utility-owned model with installations located in various spaces around Seattle, WA. Seattle City Light pays to build and maintain the


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School 77 - PUSH Buffalo - Buffalo, NY Sponsorship Model: Third Party-Owned: Not- for-profit Community Benefits: • Allows renters to participate in renewable energy • Educational opportunity for sustainable development • Subscribers anticipate a 30 - 90% reduction in their electrical bill, depending on the number of subscribers ($10-$20/month) Community Participation: • Reduces energy bills of subscribers • Project developed through a community-engagement process • Construction of solar array provides jobs to PUSH trained neighborhood workforce School 77 is the site of a community solar project located on the roof of a former school building on Buffalo’s West Side that


has been renovated and converted into 30 senior affordable housing units, community gymnasium, auditorium for a local theater company, and office space. Through the two-year neighborhood planning process, School 77 was determined to also include a community solar installation. The community solar subscription is available for residents of the senior housing units with a possible extension offered to the larger community at a later date. Residents at School 77 will not have to undergo any credit checks for participating in this system whatsoever. Rather than taking the revenue in-house, PUSH Buffalo will use the revenue from the system to pay for on-site programming or projects via a participatory budgeting process Along with reducing electricity bills, and providing residential programming, PUSH Buffalo supported Buffalo’s labor force by establishing a contract agreement with Montante Solar that specified a requirement for hiring local laborers.

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Shiloh Temple International Solar Garden - Minneapolis, MN Sponsorship Model: Community-Owned Community Benefits: • Up-front Subscription: savings is around $6,000-$10,000 for 10-12 years of an average home’s power consumption • Pay-as-go Subscription: starts with a savings of roughly 5% in year one, with savings increasing each year - average savings over 25 years of more than 15% • Host site (Shiloh Temple) provides some financial backing as a subscriber; receives reduction on electric bill

community solar project. The congregation partners with Cooperative Energy Futures (CEF) to install and maintain solar panels on the temple roof. CEF currently supports seven other community solar projects across Minneapolis. The tax incentives for the utility company, made possible through state policies, make the project financially feasible. Congregation members and other community members are eligible as member-owners, either by paying large sums up front for their panel subscription, or every month, reducing the initial cost and barrier to participation. The congregation formed a board to make decisions about the array. Individual participants are members of CEF, therefore receiving the benefits of any end of year dividends from excess energy, and making decisions about the organizational structure, and project terms and conditions. CEF is one of the first community-owned solar energy cooperatives in the country that seeks to serve lower-resource communities in urban settings. The project installation will begin in Summer 2018.

Community Participation: • Prominent community ownership in solar energy production • Workforce training opportunities • Living classroom for youth The Shiloh International Temple Solar Garden in Minneapolis, MN is a community-owned


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Southern Tier Solar Works - New York State Sponsorship Model: Third Party-Owned: For- profit Community Benefits: • Flexible access to renewable energy through multiple subscriber options • Lower energy bills for low and moderate income residents • Job creation Community Participation: • Subscriber Pay-as-you-go: 10-20% discount over 20 years • Monthly subscription: 10% discount off current utility rates • Owner-member: 20-40% discount over 20 years • Panel owners receive tax incentives and rebates Southern Tier Solar Works is a not-for-profit organization based in Binghamton, NY


that works to increase the volume of solar installation and public access to community solar projects in the region. Southern Tier Solar Works strives to enable flexible access to renewable energy, lower energy bills for low and moderate income residents, and create local jobs in the solar industry. Multiple subscription options are offered to residents among the 25 community solar projects the organization has contracted as of Spring 2018. All NYSEG customers (including renters, homeowners, businesses, nonprofits, low income residents, and students) are able to participate in a community solar project.

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• All racking and mounting systems are manufactured in Westminster, VT

Vermont Community Solar Projects - Soveren Solar - Vermont Sponsorship Model: Third Party-Owned: For- profit

Soveren Solar is a community solar installation company that was formed in 2008 in Brattleboro, VT. Soveren has completed twelve community solar projects ranging from 100-150-kilowatt systems in Southern and Central Vermont. The solar installation system that Soveren Solar uses is able to be adjusted according to the season, insead of a fixed racking system. This racking system is estimated to facilitate a 15-20% increase in electricity generated compared to a fixed racking system. Soveren also works in partnership with a local federal credit union in order to provide the opportunity for customers to apply for unsecured loans that would enable them to purchase a share of the community solar installation.

Community Benefits: • Customers will be able to take advantage of the 30% federal tax credit as well as a 7.2% VT state business tax credit for their participation in the solar installation • Maintenance costs for are included in the purchase price and last 30 years, encompassing the lifetime of the solar panel installation • Insurance for the VCS panels is included in the upfront costs • Seasonally adjusted solar arrays increase the efficiency of generating electricity in areas that experience long periods of cloud cover. Community Participation: • A 150-kilowatt system can support up to 30 businesses or households


Planning and Policy Framework The success of community solar projects are tied to the policy environment in which they exist. This section reviews policies in New York State, Western New York, and Buffalo which relate to project development.

I. New York State Framework Reforming the Energy Vision

Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) is an overall strategy for to increase renewable energy production across the entire state of New York. The goal of REV is to ensure that 50 percent of the state’s energy is provided by renewable energy sources by 2030. The strategy includes regulatory reform and reducing financial barriers to incentivize renewable energy. The strategy includes a variety of programs including Buildings and Energy Efficiency, NY-Sun, K-Solar, Renewable Heat NY, Renewable Thermal, BuildSmart NY, NY Green Bank, and Property-Assessed Clean Energy Financing (PACE).

NY-Sun: Making Solar Affordable for all New Yorkers

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NY-SUN was implemented as an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase access to solar energy. The primary goal of this program is to reduce the energy costs of subscribers while also making solar affordable. To achieve this goal, NY-Sun reduces some of the financial burden by partnering with contractors and developers to offset initial costs. Residents and business owners are able to take advantage of financing options, as well as the option to participate in community solar.

NYSERDA Affordable Solar Pre Development and Technical Assistance This state program administered through the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) seeks to address the affordability gap in solar energy by providing funding for pre-development activities of projects serving low and moderate income residents. Pre-development activities can include project financing, obtaining services from solar developers, legal, outreach and enrollment, or any other services that would aid in achieving targets. Rather than targeting traditional homeowners, this grant is reserved for multifamily affordable housing units. The grant is awarded to eligible affordable housing providers, community organizations and technical service providers.


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II. Regional Framework One Region Forward: A New Way to Plan for Buffalo Niagara (2015)

One Region Forward was a large scale regional planning effort in Erie and Niagara counties involving hundreds of stakeholders and community members. A New Way to Plan for Buffalo Niagara discusses the future of energy in the Buffalo-Niagara region. The plan links the economic health of the region to ecological sustainability; it embraces solar power and other new technologies by pushing for expanded state funding for renewable energy and encouraging local governments to streamline permitting processes for clean energy installations (2015, p.15). The plan calls for an increase of New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) funding and programs to help communities build solar and wind generated energy projects (2015, p. 104). The plan also calls for making homes more energy efficient through weatherization and encourages local governments to adopt policies to reduce fossil fuel usage. (2015, p 102)


Western New York Regional Sustainability Plan (2013) The Western New York Regional and Sustainability Plan is the guide for integrated and sustainable solutions to improve the quality of life in the five-county region (Erie, Niagara, Chautauqua, Allegany, and Cattaraugus). One of the key goals is to build energy efficiency programs, remedy infrastructure to enable the use of alternative and clean energy sources, and create a diverse market for the distributed generation of energy. The plan calls for increasing renewable energy production in this region of the state, including the installation of solar panels in both new and existing developments (Western New York Regional Planning Consortium, 2013, p. 45).

Erie County Climate Action Sustainability Plan (2016)

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Erie County and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) are continuing to development of a Climate Action and Sustainability Plan for internal county operations. The goals are to save more than $700,000 in energy costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5,300 metric tons. These goals are in line with the NYS Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) strategy. An interdepartamental ‘Green Team’ has been created in order to pursue these sustainability initiatives. The Clean Energy Communities program provides for $16 million in funding for local governments to implement clean energy actions, including renewable energy generated resources. A full draft of the Erie County‘s Climate Action & Sustainability Plan will be made available in the spring of 2018.

III. City of Buffalo Framework Buffalo Green Code (2016)

The Green Code includes the City of Buffalo Land Use Plan, Local Waterfront Revitalization plan, and the form-based Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). The goals of the land use plan are to expand the economy, strengthen neighborhoods, and sustain the environment (City of Buffalo Office of Strategic Planning, 2016, p. 14). The plan encourages brownfield clean-ups as central to the process of remediating land in order to build new development that would incorporate sustainable energy practices and environmental justice objectives (City of Buffalo Office of Strategic Planning, 2016, p. 24). The plan will encourage the installation of energy efficient systems such as solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass in both new builds and existing structures for conservation and to increase the percentage of clean energy consumption (City of Buffalo Office of Strategic Planning, 2016, p. 42). The revitalization of neighborhood centers is also integral to the building and success of mixed-use urban prosperity. The clustering of diverse land uses into a single dense neighborhood will minimize carbon footprint and increase public utility (City of Buffalo Office of Strategic Planning, 2016, p. 30).


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In areas where at least 60 percent of properties are vacant or distressed, the Green Code proposes a strategy of “transformation” to convert vacant parcels into “open space reserves” used to manage stormwater, grow trees or food, or produce energy (City of Buffalo Mayor’s Office of Strategic Planning, 2016). The Green Code also provides guidance on solar energy production in the city, providing for three zones that allow photovoltaic installations without prior approval, and four more that allow solar farms with a special permit (City of Buffalo Mayor’s Office of Strategic Planning, 2016). Solar generation also is permitted as an accessory use in areas covered by the Waterfront Revitalization plan (City of Buffalo Mayor’s Office of Strategic Planning, 2015).

City of Buffalo Comprehensive Plan: 1.5.9 Green Building and 1.6.12 Energy (2006) The City of Buffalo Comprehensive Plan: The Queen City in the 21st Century was created in 2006, adopting smart growth principles to revitalize and guide Buffalo to reach clean energy benchmarks set by New York State for 2030. The plan works in conjunction with existing programs set forth by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) (Rebuild New York Community Energy Target Zone), the New York Power Authority, and the University at Buffalo Green Office and the School of Architecture and Planning to incorporate green design and energy efficient practices throughout the city and region (Sec. 1.6.12). The plan also strives to guide both new and existing buildings in the 30

city to incorporate sustainable design and the implementation of renewable energy sources and practices for the reuse of current building stock (Sec. 1.5.9). Project Rainfall is on the site of the former Houdaille Industries, a rotary shock absorber manufacturing facility, and falls within a preservation-ready revitalization site that would benefit from implementing clean energy infrastructure.

The Queen City Hub: A Regional Action Plan for Downtown Buffalo (2003) The Queen City Hub: A Regional Plan for Downtown Buffalo was developed in 2003 by the Office of Strategic Planning in the City of Buffalo in order to improve downtown Buffalo and the surrounding neighborhoods. The plan envisions a strong urban core in downtown Buffalo that enables people to live, work, and play in a welcoming center-city environment. Working from the foundation of Joseph Ellicott’s 1804 radial plan that linked downtown to the rest of Buffalo’s culturally rich neighborhoods. The energy vision focuses on two main points: lowering energy costs by implementing energy efficient and green design strategies, and improving the ecology of downtown Buffalo to increase its sustainability (City of Buffalo, p. 24). Achieving these goals will be done through policy advocating and educational efforts on green design, environmental best practices, and the economic and environmental benefits of sustainable development. Sustainable and green design implementation in downtown Buffalo will help provide models that other neighborhoods will be able to replicate. Conversely, Project Rainfall

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may act as a model for the implementation of renewable energy to revitalize a brownfield site through a participatory planning process.

Fruit Belt Neighborhood Solar Partnership

Five Cities Energy Plan

Buffalo was one of five cities included in a master energy plan developed by the New York Power Authority to reduce energy use. The plan is closely linked to the Reforming the Energy Vision (REV). Buffalo’s energy plan emphasizes wider deployment of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems to generate electricity, as well as using the Green Code to promote renewable energy projects. Strategies include identifying opportunities to deploy renewable energy on city properties, supporting residential-scale solar energy systems, launching community solar programs and exploring ways to redevelop privately owned brownfields for renewable energy generation (New York Power Authority, 2015).

National Grid is working on a Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) demonstration project in Buffalo’s Fruit Belt neighborhood to install 100 residential rooftop solar photovoltaic systems. The project is intended to ease barriers that prevent low- and moderate-income customers from participating in the solar market. The initiative will test whether providing solar bill credits to participants will yield cost savings that help them to better manage their energy bills, and whether deploying solar photovoltaic (PV) systems within an area served by a single substation will relieve demand on the grid system. The overarching purpose is to experiment with the potential for using the same approach across similar communities (National Grid, 2016).


Neighborhood Context I. Demographic Analysis The Northland Beltline Corridor is a small, predominantly black community in East Buffalo, bounded by East Delavan Avenue, Grider Street, East Ferry Street, and Fillmore Avenue. As the name suggests, the Northland community is a former railway corridor where a host of manufacturing jobs once served as the neighborhood’s lifeline. After the wave of deindustrialization hit Buffalo and crippled its economy in the mid-twentieth century, the Northland Beltline Corridor suffered tremendous losses. The combined forces of job loss and population decline left the community marred with vacant industrial buildings, vacant lots, and depreciating housing values. The neighborhood’s current population trend indicates slight decline. This population decline mirrors the neighborhood’s housing values. A continued decrease in population has negatively impacted housing values throughout the neighborhood. These factors, coupled with an increase in households making less than $20,000 has put the neighborhood in a position to seek solutions for mitigating these trends. Despite these challenges, the neighborhood’s vitality has been maintained by engaged residents and community institutions such as churches, schools, and businesses. Siting Project Rainfall within the Northland Corridor adds to the existing institutions and compliments the state’s current redevelopment efforts, such as “The Buffalo Billion.” Advanced manufacturing and clean energy are envisioned to be the revitalizing force that catapults this

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aged neighborhood into the 21st century. With the Workforce Development Training Center operating as the anchor project of the corridor revitalization, Northland is expected to transform into a community where residents can truly live, work, and play. Project Rainfall can serve as a vital contributor in this effort to strengthen the community by expanding food accessibility. Although there is no supermarket in the neighborhood itself, there are bus lines that connect the Northland Beltline Corridor to the Aldi market and Broadway Market located on Broadway Avenue, as well as the Tops market located Jefferson Avenue, and the Jawani Halal market on Fillmore Avenue. The local hospital -- Erie County Medical Center -- also hosts a farmers market twice a week during the summer months. Given the barriers to healthy food access that particularly impacts residents without vehicles, including seniors, and disabled populations, Project Rainfall intends to strengthen the Northland Beltline Corridor by increasing healthful food accessibility for its residents. The Northland Beltline Corridor Neighborhood is bounded by East Delavan Avenue to the north, Grider Street to the east, East Ferry Street to the south, and Filmore Avenue to the west, coinciding with the boundary defined by the Northland Neighborhood Strategy (BURA, p. 6). We relied on the demographic analysis in the Northland Neighborhood Strategy in order to contextualize our efforts in determining the scope of the project. The Northland Neighborhood Strategy guide uses aggregated data from census tracts 34 and 170. The demographic analysis that follows in this report uses a smaller geographic scale. Block


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group 34.005 closely resembles the neighborhood boundary used by the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency (BURA) and the Buffalo Urban Development Corporation (BUDC) (Figure 6). Demographic and housing statistics in this report are at this singular block group scale. This was the scale selected for this analysis as it contains the homes of residents who would be within the predicted area for Project Rainfall’s community solar outreach. Data collected and displayed in this section is from the 2010 U.S. Census, the 2013 and 2016 American Community Survey Five-Year Estimates, and the 2014 Erie County parcel database.

Figure 4: Northland Beltline Workforce Training Center Image Credit: Jim Cielencki

Educational Attainment The most common education level achieved in the Northline Beltline Corridor neighborhood is a high school degree or a GED, though there are some who have not completed high school. Receiving a Master’s degree or a Professional School degree is the least common level of educational attainment in this neighborhood. (Figure 7)

Figure 5: Rendering of Northland Beltline Workforce Training Center Image Credit: Buffalo Urban Development Corporation

Commuting The majority of the population commutes by either car, truck, or van. Commuting using public transportation, bicycles, or by foot is much less common (Figure 8). With the continuing development of the Buffalo Urban Development Corporation Workforce Development Center on Northland Avenue, the percentage of population commuting via bicycle and walking may increase.

Figure 6: Site boundaries vs. block group boundaries 34

Map Credit: Will Siegner

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Figure 7: Highest levels of educational attainment in 2013 - 2016 Source: American Community Survey 5-yr Estimates 2013 and 2016

Figure 8: Commuting trends from 2013 and 2016

Source: American Community Survey 5-yr Estimates 2013 and 2016


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Income to Housing Cost Ratio

The Northline Beltline Corridor is a low-income neighborhood, with average household incomes ranging from below $20,000 up to $35,000. Very few household incomes range from $35,000 to $100,000, with little to none exceeding $100,000 (Figure 9).

Being a low-income neighborhood, many Northland Beltline Corridor residents are spending a large percent of their household income on gross rent, ranging from as low as 10 to 30 percent to more than 50 percent (Figure 10). Generally, when the percentage of household income is spent on rent exceeds 30 percent, it is an indicator of economic distress (BURA, p. 20).

Figure 9: Household Income 2013 and 2016

Source: American Community Survey 5-yr Estimates 2013 and 2016

Figure 10: Gross rent as a percentage of household income 2013 and 2016 Source: American Community Survey 5-yr Estimates 2013 and 2016


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II. Northland Beltline Corridor Project Buffalo Urban Development Corporation The Buffalo Urban Development Corporation (BUDC) is a nonprofit organization that manages industrial development activities for the City of Buffalo. Focusing on distressed land and buildings, it acts as the liaison between public and private stakeholders, the conduit for public funding, provides oversight and project vision, and holds land for select public-sector projects. BUDC aims to create a conducive environment for and simplify private investment. The Northland Beltline Corridor is a BUDC development project focusing on multiple parcels of land and numerous buildings in the East Side of Buffalo. In partnership with Empire State Development, New York State Power Authority, and the City of Buffalo, the project aims to redevelop historically industrial properties along the New York Central Railway. This development will assist in revitalization of the surrounding neighborhood through the creation of new jobs and the building of an advanced manufacturing training center. The site contains primarily industrial buildings in varying stages of disrepair. Most buildings will be rehabilitated while some will face demolition based on structural or environmental pollution issues.

larger opportunities to further connect the site to transit, employment centers, and area public schools. The former Kensington Heights Public Housing site contains almost 17 acres of vacant land while the 8.85 acre site bound by East Delavan, Fillmore, and Appenheimer Avenues provides an opportunity within visible distance from the main site.

Northland Neighborhood Strategy (2016) The Northland Neighborhood Strategy was developed by the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency (BURA) in conjunction with the acquisition by Buffalo Urban Development Corporation (BUDC) of multiple properties in the Northland Beltline Corridor neighborhood (BURA, p. 5). The Northland Neighborhood Strategy was developed over the course of several stakeholder and community meetings in order to guide future development in the neighborhood (BURA, p. 21). Opportunities for the neighborhood include the redevelopment of former industrial sites along the Northland Beltline corridor to increase local employment, small business success, and increase overall community assets (BURA, p. 23). Project Rainfall will utilize a former manufacturing facility and intends to implement green design and clean energy into redevelopment of the site in accordance with the Northland Neighborhood Strategy (BURA, p. 30).

Strategic opportunities for future expansion of the project include community accessible infill housing along vacant and underutilized parcels of land. North of the site include two 37

Project Context I. Project Partners Project Rainfall Project Rainfall is a food systems social enterprise project led by NeuWater and Associates, LLC CEO Rita Hubbard-Robinson in the Northland Beltline Corridor on the East Side of Buffalo. The project aim is to create a culture of health, improve the wellness of residents, and increase access to healthy affordable food in a neighborhood that is currently classified as a food desert. It will be located in the vacant 41,000 square foot building, 537 East Delavan Avenue. Two-thirds of the space will contain a hydroponics farm where fresh produce will be grown, serving as cash crop to make this project self sufficient. It is anticipated that an aquaponics farm, where fish will be raised, will also be incorporated. One-third of the space will include a farmers market, where local produce will be sold all year, a space for fitness activities, a wellness center, and an education kitchen. Project Rainfall will provide training, employment, and entrepreneurial opportunities to local residents. In order to offset energy costs, Project Rainfall is considering community solar. A community solar program allows a wide range of participants to access renewable energy and reduce their energy bills without having to put solar panels directly on their roof or property. In the last decade, there has been a significant increase of interest in solar energy. Between 2011 and 2017, solar grew by 1000 percent in New York State. In the summer of 2015, the New York State Public Service Commission

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approved an order that allowed for Community Solar developments as a way for all community members to benefit from solar projects.

Western New York Environmental Alliance The Western New York Environmental Alliance (WNYEA) is a partnership between various independent, member organizations that have come together to represent the environmental visions of Western NY, with Antonina Simeti as the Executive Director. Their mission is to effect positive change through collective action and collaboration in the region to guarantee sustainable, prosperous communities and ecosystems, and ensuring the environment is a key factor in local and regional planning efforts. In order to effectively tackle all environmental issues facing the region, they have formed eight Working Groups: Energy & Climate Change, Environmental Justice, Growing, Habitat & Natural Resources, Parks & Recreation, Transportation, Urban Regeneration, Waste & Pollution. The WNYEA has developed a strategic action plan to improve environmental conditions in WNY that includes a clear set of goals, strategies to reach those goals, and specific actions required to implement them. The WNYEA also provides community members resources and educational opportunities, as well as opportunities to volunteer and get more involved.

Groundwork Buffalo Groundwork Buffalo (GWB) is a nonprofit organization that works to make meaningful change in local communities that will positively impact


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Figure 11: Rendering of Project Rainfall East Delavan Street entrance

Source: Watts Engineering.

Figure 12: Rendering of interior of Project Rainfall

Source: Watts Engineering.


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the environment and the lives of the people living and working there. GWB’s mission is to build sustainable urban communities through community engagement, empowerment, and collaboration. They also aim to change the lives of younger generations through job training in environmental stewardship, urban planning, and neighborhood investment. Antonina Simeti joined their leadership team in 2016 as the Executive Director.

University at Buffalo Regional Institute The University at Buffalo Regional Institute (URBI) is a public policy and urban planning research organization, where Jason Kulaszewski is the Clean Energy Coordinator. Composed of planners, architects, urban designers, data analysts, policy specialists, legal experts, researchers, information systems experts, technical writers, and graphic designers that strive to foster progressive planning and cultivate healthy community engagement. As a research and policy division at The University at Buffalo, UBRI works in partnership with community and neighborhood organizations and in conjunction with city, county, state, and federal governments to generate research and insights in public process management and strategic planning. The University at Buffalo faculty and students at the School of Architecture and Planning are key researchers and stakeholders of UBRI’s efforts.


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II. Community Solar Projects in Development Across Region

As community solar expands across New York State, New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) offers resources to track the development of new projects. Multiple community solar projects have already been developed in the Buffalo area; there is a strong precedent for community solar in the region. As visible in Figure 13, planned or developed projects have been heavily concentrated in the northern suburbs of Buffalo thus far. However, two community solar projects situated within the City of Buffalo (projects in the Fruit Belt and on Buffalo’s West Side) are not yet reflected on the map.

III. Potential Limitations to Community Solar in Buffalo Gentrification Buffalo’s East Side has been impacted by extensive disinvestment. A sudden influx of new investment, however, has the potential to cause displacement as a rise in property taxes correlated with rising real estate values may price out many of the neighborhood’s longtime residents. While low- and moderate-income residents are often supportive of renewed investment in their community, ‘environmental gentrification’ can be a serious concern (Mock, 2015). Low income residents of historically underdeveloped communities might therefore be hesitant to participate in green energy projects, such as community solar, as this sort of neighborhood greening process sometimes results in displacement of longtime residents just as environmental conditions within their communities begin to improve.

Context of Environmental Justice

Figure 13: Existing Community Solar locations near Northland Corridor Map Credit: Will Siegner


The grassroots environmental justice movement has brought major attention to the disproportionate burden of environmental risk borne by people of color and low-income people in the United States. Disproportionate exposure to environmental pollution and locally unwanted land uses (like hazardous waste and energy production facilities), along with restricted access to environmental benefits, have resulted in major disparities in health outcomes among African American and Latino populations, compared with White populations in the US (Brulle and Pellow, 2006).

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Disinvested communities that have historically been targeted for citing locally unwanted land uses might be hesitant to support solar energy production in their backyards, or at least question the potential health effects of solar energy production. Skepticism rooted in historic patterns of environmental and human exploitation could influence community acceptance of external promises of wealth and environmental harmony.

IV. Application of the FEW Nexus at Project Rainfall At the Project Rainfall site, the food-energy-water (FEW) nexus is contained within a smaller geographic boundary of a single Buffalo neighborhood, but its outputs may impact the broader region, and external factors will influence the capacity of the FEW nexus to function well. The FEW nexus represents the interactions among food production, water collection and use, and renewable energy sources, all at the Project Rainfall site. The individual systems within the FEW nexus at the Project Rainfall site are still in planning stages; therefore, it is not possible to make firm assumptions about the potential benefits from interactions among the systems. The project hopes to promote healthy lifestyles among community members and reinforce renewable practices through its energy, food and water systems on site. The specific proposed FEW systems at Project Rainfall include: • Food production and availability: an aquaponic system, which is a closed-loop (watering → fertilization → production) growing technique, outdoor gardening space, and shelters designated for weekly farmers markets focused on area producers (including the food grown on site) • Energy production: solar panel installation on various locations around the site (possibilities of rooftop, ground-mount, parking lot, shelter roofs). Solar panels 43

Community Solar Conversations

will generate energy for the site itself, as well as for community solar subscribers (i.e. community residents who wish to participate) • Water systems: rain barrels may collect rainwater, stormwater management techniques may be installed as part of the building construction period to prevent flooding including porous parking surfaces The extent to which Project Rainfall’s food-energy-water (FEW) nexus can create value will be based on its ability to leverage each system’s strengths to create additional benefits in another, and limit any negative consequences that may result from the interacting system dynamics. In an ideal scenario, participation in community solar and the subsequent electricity savings may enable community members to have more income to purchase fresh, locally-produced food. Another potential outcome of the FEW nexus would be provision of living wage jobs with benefits for Project Rainfall staff, due to the savings in energy costs through solar installation at Project Rainfall. Although these potential outcomes may materialize in the future, the potential impact of the food-energy-water (FEW) nexus at Project Rainfall may be inhibited by a variety of factors which should be considered. The list below is not exhaustive, but may provide insight into the specific barriers that preclude changes in human, community or ecological health through the FEW framework. Opportunities may exist to leverage another system dimension (external factors, available resources, and individual agency) to overcome these barriers.


1. Particularly due to the cost of staff time, the cost of small-scale food production in urban areas is high. Many urban agriculture projects across the United States struggle to offer market opportunities for income generation. As a programmatic element of a non-profit or social enterprise, urban agriculture has shown little capacity for to generate significant revenue, or allow organizations to hire additional staff. Other programs (building community relations, offering skill building opportunities, offering taste tests of fresh produce) may be more likelyto lead to beneficial outcomes as a result of the FEW nexus at Project Rainfall. By focusing on alternative outcomes, rather than income generation, the project may more effectively contribute to community health and wellbeing (Kaufman and Bailkey 2000; Vittielo and Wolf-Powers, 2014). 2. Due to a lack of economies of scale, the cost of production is high for small-scale producers and thus, they must charge higher prices than corporate counterparts. Residents may be hesitant to purchase relatively high-cost fresh food at Project Rainfall, and may be deterred by the lack of other household items for sale on site. This may be leveraged as an opportunity to build upon the human capital in the neighborhood and invite other small-scale businesses to sell their products at the farmers markets or at stalls on site, to provide broader services and attract additional customers to the site. 3. Although community members may experience savings on their energy

Community Solar Conversations

bills over time through participation in community solar, it is unlikely to reduce their bill by more than 10 percent (on average). This monthly reduction may be unlikely to prompt families -- particularly those with limited incomes -- to purchase produce at higher prices, or invest in additional community solar panels (Flint, 2018). By leveraging tax credits or local incentives for renewable energy (financial conditions), or partnering with area institutions (businesses, churches, BUDC), Project Rainfall may be able to leverage financial conditions to reduce the cost of solar installation. As in the case of other community solar projects around the country (see Shiloh Temple, Minneapoli in Section IV, Community Solar Case Studies), substantial investments from other institutions may make it possible for residents to pay for their subscription to the solar array slowly over time. 4. Although urban agriculture projects have the potential to offer learning opportunities related to food production and unfamiliar foods, there is a lack of evidence that simply the presence of nutritious food options in a community leads to improved health outcomes. The variety of other factors that influence health of an individual, a community, or the environment preclude the possibility of linking the presence of the food-energy-water (FEW) system directly to changes in health outcomes of residents, for example. Those external factors range from the quality of sidewalks in the neighborhood (urban landscape) to the regulations on pollution from nearby man-

ufacturing plants (governance and policy) to the lack of transportation to jobs in the City of Buffalo (Hale et al, 2011; Raj, Raja, and Dukes, 2016; Warren, Hawkesworth, and Knai, 2015). Although the learning opportunities may not be easily linked to improved health outcomes, the opportunity for educational opportunities for students may provide an important benefit to local schools and community centers, building awareness and interest in local food and renewable energy production among young people. 5. The water collection system may have minimal impact on the overall cost of water at the site. Project Rainfall may still need to pay the water utility for water access to restrooms, drinking water, and cleaning stations unless they chose to install a (costly) system to filter and pump rain water throughout the building. This element is also highly reliant on sufficient rain, which is difficult to predict in a rapidly changing climate. By building on local expertise of technology and design of alternative renewable water systems, possibly through partnerships with entities such as People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH) Blue and/or the Buffalo Water Authority, Project Rainfall may be able to reduce water system costs and increase opportunities to reuse water across the FEW systems. The factors above are considered only in the context of the food-energy-water (FEW) nexus at the Project Rainfall site. Although the on-site systems may face barriers to address individual, community, or ecological health on their own,


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the project may contribute to other movement happening in the community related to wellbeing and health of the community or ecological systems. The project must be part of a larger, cross-sectional effort that involves community residents and existing institutions with established records of trust and contributions to make measurable impacts. As they plan for long-term impact through collaborative measures, it is important for Project Rainfall and the project team to consider the answers to the seven criteria that must be met to reach the project goal of improved human, community and ecological health.

Accessibility - Can people get to it physically (food grown at Project Rainfall, participate in health activities)? Are there barriers such as hours of operation, proximity to bus lines, quality of sidewalks? Affordability - Does the cost of participation work for the budgets of the people participating? Acceptability - Are the systems congruent with the culture, vision and goals of the community? Of the host site? Of the project partners? Availability - Do the technological systems needed for each system to function well, and to link the systems where needed, exist? Are other technology systems needed? Adaptability - Can the systems at the site to shift based on demand from the community, or external shocks? Redundancy - Are there backup systems in the case of one of the system’s (FEW) failure, such


as a lack of rain during the summer?

Multifunctionality - Do the three systems work together to enhance any existing outputs that one system alone could not produce? Although the food-energy-water (FEW) nexus is unlikely to have significant impact on the surrounding individual and community health and wellbeing, Project Rainfall may leverage the systems to gain benefits for the site itself. If Project Rainfall can achieve savings in its own operational costs, achieving longer-term goals such as paying staff a living wage and selling the produce at affordable rates may be more realistic. Three examples of opportunities to turn on-site trade-offs to positive outcomes include: 1. The cost of installing both the aquaponics and solar systems may be prohibitive and/ or prevent one of those components of the project from moving forward, and create a trade-off. Although there may be state grant funding available for solar projects, the funding could dry up and the lack of redundancy would throw the nexus offbalance. Partnerships with local businesses or community institutions with aligned missions or goals (such as improved ecological, human, or community health) may provide the backup funding needed to install both these systems. Once installed, the solar system may generate electricity to run the simple motors required by the aquaponics system; revenue generated from the sale of the aquaponic crops may be recycled to offset loans required for solar installation -leading to synergy across the system.

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2. Although collecting rainwater in barrels is a step toward a more renewable form of the resource, the water would need to be filtered before used in a washing station for food produced on site. The additional filtration step would use additional energy to run, reducing the amount of produced solar energy available for electricity on site and to solar subscribers in the community. This potential trade-off (i.e. not utilizing a renewable water source due to reduction of solar benefits) could be a synergy if the technology and team expertise could design an aquaponics system that filters the water enough for food cleansing and/or hand washing. 3. A solar panel installation over the parking lot would provide protection for cars in the winter, and spaces may be able to be rented to area residents or businesses for a small fee, to repay the initial investment to install the solar array. Over time, through investment and savings across the food-energy-water (FEW) systems, there may be opportunities to make long-term impact on the surrounding community. In addition, the value of opportunities for residents to learn about food production, water reuse, and renewable energy sources may have value that is not captured within the nexus itself.


Workshop Process and Outcomes I. Workshop Preparation Shaping a Community Engagement Strategy In developing an effective outreach strategy to engage residents in community solar, traditional methods of policy-making imposed from the top-down have repeatedly been shown to lead to a decrease in trust and willingness to engage among the public (MacArthur, 2016). Participatory engagement strategies, however, that clearly demonstrate a connection between the public’s stated opinions and desires, and the subsequent policy action, have proven more effective (MacArthur, 2016). Thin and/or consultative methods of public engagement can result in burnout and resentment among public participants, while deeper engagement processes yield power to participants (MacArthur, 2016). The Social Planning Research Council of British Columbia (2013) defines a deep community engagement process through five steps: clear, accurate and consistent communication with the community; transparent process that links results of community engagement to decision-making; recognition of knowledge and expertise of participants; and representative participation by relevant population groups. Research on community engagement strategies for renewable energy programs in small to mid-sized cities resulted in four concrete recommendations to increase the number and efficacy of clean energy programs. These include: collaborating throughout the planning process with local experts and non-governmental organizations, engaging

Community Solar Conversations

stakeholders in the early stages of a visioning process, and highlighting the positive environmental and economic benefits to the community (Pitt and Bassett 2013). High-adoption cities were much more likely to report extensive engagement processes that included professional stakeholder meetings and public forums. Drawing on this research to plan an effective community engagement strategy, University at Buffalo students worked with project partners to develop and implement neighborhood workshops on community solar.

Relationship Building During the grant-application process that successfully funded Project Rainfall, the project collaborators, including Rita Hubbard-Robinson (founder and Director), sought partnerships with local community entities. Project Rainfall identified the Northland Beltline Taxpayers Association (NBTA), a group of over homeowners in the neighborhood, as the target audience for two initial workshops in the spring of 2018. Through support from the Western New York Environmental Alliance (WNYEA) and Groundwork Buffalo, Project Rainfall also built relationships with students at Buffalo Public School Number 197 Math Science Technology Preparatory School (MST). Project collaborators hoped to engage students to act as potential “Solar Ambassadors� and share ongoing information about community solar within the community.


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Community Engagement Partner Meetings In February 2018, project partners and the student team met to discuss a vision and goals for workshops. This included target outcomes and best possible outcome scenarios. Students spent time researching models, mechanics, and community benefits of community solar. Frameworks for designing public engagement were drawn from a variety of sources, including two toolkits developed by sparc bc and Schmitz et al (see Introduction). In addition, the Western New York Environmental Alliance (WNYEA) instructed students in community engagement best practices. Building upon the specific goals from the partners, students met with Dave Stebbins, Director of Buffalo Urban Development Corporation (BUDC). Mr. Stebbins provided additional background information about the community engagement process during the Northland Beltline Corridor Redevelopment process, which informed the strategies the students selected for Workshop One. A community solar expert in the State of New York, Adam Flint from Southern Tier Solar Works and the Binghamton Regional Sustainability Coalition, provided additional considerations for communications about solar (Flint, 2018). Based on his presentation, students identified the following key elements of a successful communication strategy about community solar, which they then incorporated into the agenda for the first workshop. These elements may be of use to other communities


considering the implementation and structure of a community solar project across the United States. See Table 3 for details.

Workshop Planning The student team and partners met three times to develop the first workshop agenda, which was heavily informed by the previous engagement conversations. The first meeting was to develop the Community Engagement strategy for the entire project, with the project partners, Project Rainfall, Western New York Environmental Alliance (WNYEA), Erie County, and University at Buffalo Regional Institute (UBRI). This meeting covered discussion of goals for the project; how much engagement seeking from residents; goals for each individual workshop; and roles for each of the partners and student team in the process. Partners highlighted the need to be respectful of past engagement processes, and recognize fatigue residents might experience with certain exercise (e.g. asset-mapping, listing challenges in the community). The group determined that the workshops would build upon previous work done by Buffalo Urban Development Corporation (BUDC) and others, so that the workshops could focus explicitly on the capacity, readiness and potential challenges with community solar. The partners determined that the primary target audience would be the Northland Beltline Taxpayers Association (NBTA), but would welcome any interested community members through word of mouth, or direct outreach to students at the Math Science Technology Preparatory School (MST) school where the workshops were held. The group committed to creating a foundation with

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Table 4: Consideration for Solar Communication How would this project work in this community?

- Keep information simple and targeted toward the interests and needs of the target audience - Explain the connection between the physical solar array and the en dits on individual electricity bills

- Provide examples of potential monthly savings, depending on the project terms with the utility company

- Understand the aesthetic concerns and interests of the community, and know what the capacities are for the site before holding an initial meeting

- Need to procure project terms that support needs of a diverse population, which could include:

- A 10 percent floating discount rate against current rates (the current rate in New York State for community solar)

- Monthly versus quarterly discounts

- No credit checks

- No penalty for subscribers choosing to opt-out due to residential or financial considerations Why should this community consider participating in a community solar project?

- Place-based economic and environmental impacts

- Household savings from the impact of energy credits on electric bills

- Positive environmental impact by reducing dependency on “dirty” energy sources such as coal

- Social pressure and trends

- Communities may want to be leaders in alternative energy development

- Because energy production is invisible, would need to develop signage to highlight the project and encourage community members to participate

- Long-term employment - Could provide long-term job opportunities if the community developed an entirely new power system of solar


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the two first workshops that would support a town hall meeting later in the year. In the first Workshop One planning meeting, the students presented a draft agenda for review by partners. There was discussion about the most engaging activities to promote understanding of complex community solar concepts. The final meeting brought together the partners and students, as well as the President of the Northland Beltline Taxpayers Association (NBTA), who provided additional context and background about the association and history of community development in the neighborhood. The team benefited from the personal insight from the community leader, who advised the students to acknowledge historic trauma the community has faced due to disinvestment, which has resulted in apprehension about future development projects. She also noted the excitement among community members about modernization based on direction and leadership from residents. The president also provided new avenues for engaging community residents. To boost interest from potential partners outside the Northland Beltline Taxpayers Association (NBTA), students designed flyers to hang in the public school where the meeting would be held to invite students and parents, and distributed flyers across the neighborhood the weekend before the first workshop.

II. Workshop One The first workshop was conducted on March 13, 2018 at the Math Science Technology School in the Northland Neighborhood. The workshop’s agenda is listed below along with a synthesis of participant feedback.

Agenda for Workshop One: Activities and Discussions Goals for the meeting were to: • Introduce the basics of community solar, its relation to Project Rainfall and the Northland Corridor • Explore how residents of the Northland Beltline Corridor community could benefit from a community solar project 1. Project Rainfall Solar Overview Presentation by Rita Hubbard Robinson on Project Rainfall 2. Community Solar Presentation of community solar by Eric Walker and Jason Kulaszewski 3. Poster Viewing Walk Around: Solar Case Studies and Design Ideas Poster display of community solar project examples 4. Community Solar Small Group Discussion • Three different small groups discussed four main questions: • What do you find exciting about the idea of community solar?


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• Would a community solar project be a good fit for the Northland Neighborhood? Why or why not? • What challenges or obstacles might a community solar project encounter in the Northland Neighborhood? • What would you like to know more about? 5. Share-out Small groups shared ideas with the larger group 6. Follow up presentation and discussion Eric returned to his original presentation to explain program models in greater detail and ask direct questions about what would make a good community solar project in the Northland-Beltline Corridor neighborhood.

Comments and Discussion Five main themes emerged from the discussions, summaries below:

Community Solar should provide a cost saving opportunity for community members Participants expressed interest in community solar as a way to lower energy bills. Many participants agreed that electricity is expensive, several residents have noted that their home’s electricity bills are higher than their gas bills. Participants viewed solar as a tangible monetary benefit. Finally, participants believe that other community members will be interested participating in a community solar project in the Northland Beltline Corridor

because electricity is so expensive.

Community Solar should provide physical and monetary investment in the neighborhood Participants discussed benefits of community solar beyond cost savings on energy bills, linking community solar to physical and monetary investment in the neighborhood. Vacant lots were mentioned as areas within the neighborhood that could potentially host solar installations. Participants saw community solar as an opportunity to enhance community spaces within the neighborhood. For example, a specific suggestion is to develop pavilions that could be used as sheltered picnic areas with solar-powered outlets. These shelters could also function as overhangs for a farmer’s market. Creating public art displays with community solar was also proposed. Beyond the physical design of a future installation, local jobs and workforce training could promote additional economic benefits. Participants suggested that community members could be trained to install and maintain the panels and if this training could be connected with the workforce training center. Participants agreed that the community wants to “renovate reinvest, and innovate” and that community solar could be part of this.

Outreach strategies should include churches and block groups. Outreach materials should be clear and persuasive Churches and block clubs were identified as important networks for sharing information and encouraging neighborhood involvement. Participants identified the need to break down


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complex concepts and programs in a way that is understandable to a broad audience as a key concern. Suggestions for successful outreach included using a technical field guide and a similar entry level book at around a ninth grade reading level so that a broad audience can learn about the specifics of a project. It was also noted that those acting as ambassadors or “salespeople� need to be well-versed to adequately promote and persuade. Additional outreach suggestions included door-to-door flyering and contacting the district Councilman.

Initial buy-in to Community Solar should be affordable to neighborhood residents Multiple participants noted in their small group discussions that significant financial barriers exist for many Northland Beltline community members so it is important that initial buy-in costs to a community solar project are affordable. Community participants proposed partnering with a third party organization like Project Rainfall or Erie County Medical Center (ECMC) (which could potentially finance a large portion of the installation costs) in order to lower initial costs for community residents and allow more community residents to join the project. Participants in the workshop were also interested in knowing more about how the size scale of the project would affect its cost and efficiency. Last, participants noted that the expected rate of return on investment, along with an approximate investment period, are factors that must be determined in order for this project to move forward successfully.


Community Solar should be a communitydriven project In each small group, preference for a fundamentally community led project was expressed. It was agreed that there ought to be meaningful community control over the outreach, design, and continued development of the project. Those in attendance recognized a need to share information about community solar in their neighborhood, and were interested in taking an active role in getting information to their neighbors. Several participants were curious to learn more about an ambassador program for the project, which would formalize this sharing of knowledge. Additionally, participants expressed interest in a community owned solar installation and questions about funding sources available to help finance such a project.

Additional comments Additional questions included whether there are health impacts associated with solar panel installations, how solar works in different weather conditions as well as what the benefits and the timeline for such a project are. Additional comments included excitement at the possibility of operating independently from a utility company, and the desire for panels to be installed out of sight.

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Feedback Process

III. Workshop Two

This report was circulated to project partners for feedback before being circulated to a broader public. The report was shared with the president of the Northland Beltline Taxpayers Association to share with members. The report was hosted online by the Community Resilience Lab website ( Printed copies were made available and distributed at the second workshop.

The second workshop was conducted on April 19, 2018 at the Math Science Technology School in the Northland Neighborhood. The workshop’s agenda is listed below along with a synthesis of participant feedback.

Information and lessons learned from Workshop One were used in planning the content and activities for the second workshop.

• Gain a deeper understanding of the sponsorship models of community solar and how they apply to Northland Beltline Corridor

Agenda for Workshop Two: Activities and Discussions Goals for the meeting were to:

• Explore possible community solar design options, using Project Rainfall site as example 1. Subscription Models Introduction Presentation of three subscription models and answers to questions from Workshop One by Dylan Burns 2. Subscription Models Discussion Three different small groups discuss each sponsorship model and discuss three main questions: • What did you like about this model? • What did you dislike about this model? • What would you change about this model?


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3. Share Out Small groups share ideas with the larger group 4. Design Exercises Participants walk around to view and interact with a physical model display, a large aerial image of Project Rainfall, and vote on solar design ideas 5. Closing Discussion Gather participants thoughts and feelings on the workshop and layout framework for next steps by Eric Walker

Comments and Discussion Summaries below:

Pros and Cons of Different Subscription Models The Community-Owned subscription model is empowering to the community and provides the greatest benefit, but it is more time intensive to set up and has more barriers to entry Participants saw the community-owned model as great for the community because they would own the system therefore being able to make their own decisions. However, it would be more difficult to set up due to the time and labor intensive process, especially with the need for setting up a limited liability corporation (LLC) as the ownership entity. The participants felt that other community solar organizations throughout the country could act as mentors for the project. The possibility of underwriting part of costs and/or receiving financial


assistance from churches was seen as beneficial because the community had concern regarding finding equity investors. However, participants expressed concern regarding funding sources since grants are not available due to the for-profit nature of the model. Participants were intrigued by the nonprofit, People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH) Buffalo’s model of transitioning a nonprofit-owned system into a community-owned system over time. Participants liked the idea of using an equity investor during the process, but they were overall interested in paying off the system at a quicker rate. They liked the long-term cost savings possibility and the opportunity to do something for their community. There was interest in investing long-term and pooling money into something larger. Solar panel purchasing and installation was perceived as expensive compared to other models and the lower overall savings from lower electric bills did not seem to be worth the amount of effort.

The Utility-Owned subscription model has less barriers to entry, although subscribers receive a smaller return and have less influence during the development of the model Workshop participants liked how the utility-owned model allows easy access to solar energy, but they did not like that they would have limited involvement in the design process and limited financial benefits. Older participants felt that easy entry and exit would be important to their participation. Upfront hardware costs of purchasing and installing solar panels came up as a concern during the discussion of the utility model. National Grid covers these cost burdens, but the utility

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company’s control over most of the process drew participants’ concern. Participants worried whether employment opportunities would be available to local residents. Overall, participants were interested in cost savings based on other communities’ experiences with this subscription model and felt the ability to save money on their monthly electric bill was a big benefit. Figure 14: Solar panels on carport roof

Source: Bungalower. wish-this-was-a-solar-parking-lot-2/

Figure 15: Artistic solar tree

Source: Great Lakes Solar Studio. http://www.greatlakessce

The Third Party-Owned subscription model allows for a wide range of participants to easily be involved, but requires a long-term commitment The participants view of the third party-owned model benefits focused on ease of entry and access for subscribers, lack of need for credit checks, and the lack of entry fees or up-front fees needed to become a subscriber either. Participants liked the lack of additional utility bill feature of this model and felt positive that grants were available since People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH) Buffalo was able to get them. Participants only major drawback was the involvement of loans need to finance the operation. Senior citizen participants felt that their age would limit their ability to get loans.

Modifications to Community Solar Subscription Models

Figure 16: Solar panel tree with seating

Source: Ellume Solar. green-energy-blooms-solar-treehtml

Participants generated ideas about how to improve community solar subscription models. For utility-owned, participants would like to see the solar developers and utility companies hire locally. For third party-owned, participants would like the ability to receive senior


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discounts on community solar projects and reach out to younger generations. Participants were not interested in the option of a for-profit subscription model.

Solar parking lots, sculptural and artistic designs, charging stations and shaded picnic areas are a good fit for the community Participants used stickers to vote on preferred solar design, expressing particular interest in the solar parking lot design (Figure 14) as a way to produce energy while keeping snow off their cars during the winter. Many participants also liked the artistic solar designs, such as one that represents flowers (Figures 15 and 16). They expressed interest in artistic solar sculptures that convey identity. Some participants provided suggestions to integrate a water element such as a fountain into the solar design. Many liked the idea of solar charging stations (Figure 17). For the solar park (Figure 18), which received a few votes, participants especially liked the picnic area covered by solar panels that provides an area for children to play which would be great during the summer. A few participants liked the pergola solar design (Figure 19) that was integrated into the landscape, stating it was a unique design. They also liked the idea of solar outdoor kitchen (Figure 20) where the community could have a BBQ, listen to music, and encourage community interaction. On the other hand, there are also some solar designs that participants didn’t like. A few participants didn’t like the design of a chair with solar canopy (Figure 21) because they felt it would not be the right fit for senior citizens.


Figure 17: Outdoor cafe with solar panel shading

Source: Solar Energy Directory. blog/off-grid-solar-charging-keeps-coolege-students-connected/

Figure 18: Picnic shelter with solar panel roof

Source: Beacon Hill Blog. 06/21/solar-announcement-today-in-jefferson-park/

Figure 19: Pergola with solar panels

Source: Home Power Magazine. articles/solar-electricity/project-profiles/pv-pergola

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There were no votes for the solar farm design (Figure 22), and one participant noted that they no longer farm or garden. Participants said that some images were hard to depict, leaving some participants guessing what the images were, such as the outdoor kitchen (Figure 20). Participants felt some solar park designs which are only providing shade, should be improved with picnic areas or seating (Figure 18). Figure 20: Solar-powered kitchen and awning

Source: Renewable Republic. http://www.therenewable converted-into-outdoor-solar-kitchen/

Figure 21: Outdoor solar lounge

Source: Inhabitat. solar-lounge-offers-style-and-comfort-in-a-compact- clean-energy-charging-station/

Workshop Process and Activities In evaluating the workshop, participants were asked what worked well, what didn’t work well, and what resources were most helpful in understanding community solar sponsorship models and solar installation designs. Residents expressed that they were able to engage with the Project Rainfall site on an enlarged poster with an aerial image of the Buffalo Urban Development Corporation (BUDC) development site. The table exercises, including both the sponsorship model and design table exercises, were received positively. The participants also enjoyed having the large information posters for each sponsorship model in the room to be used as a quick reference point. The images of different design types and solar installation options, which participants were able to vote on their favorites, were great conversation starters for further discussion on local solar installation design. Participants also noted that the introductory presentation on solar subscription models was helpful and informational, in anticipation of the sponsorship model discussion activity.


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Participants were concerned about the impact that solar has on the environment. A greater focus on the positive aspects that community solar can have on the local, regional, and global environment would help contextualize the need for renewable energy beyond reduced energy costs.

Additional Concerns Residents living adjacent to the Project Rainfall site brought up various issues concerning the current and ongoing construction taking place on the site - disrupting their backyards. The site is very close to residential properties along Winchester and Longview Avenues, and there were concerns about development on the site and how that will impact those that live near Project Rainfall. Participants felt that the involvement of local youth organizations, schools, churches, block clubs, and community groups will be needed in order for both Project Rainfall and a community solar installation process to succeed.

Additional Questions Throughout the workshop, many questions arose. During the subscription model discussions, questions regarding the community-owned model included how the community would pay to get it started, if grants were available, if the system could be paid off sooner, and if the community could start a nonprofit instead of an limited liability corporation (LLC). More specific questions with regards to New York State included what kind of community-owned programs does NYS have that communities could take advantage


Figure 22: Solar Panels within rooftop garden

Source: Ace High Wine. gardens/

Figure 23: Integrated solar panel design

Source: Energy Transition. 02/share-of-german-citizen-renewable-energy-shrinking/

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of and if the state would be interested enough to underwrite some of the costs. Questions regarding the utility-owned model included how much it would cost and how long would the project last. A question about site design was whether the panels will be mounted to the ground or if they will be on the roof of Project Rainfall. With respect to project next steps, participants requested more hands-on activities, more youth involvement, additional information about the programs that are going to be available in the neighborhood, additional information about solar panels, information about installation for renters and how that can be applied to community solar, and how people with low credit scores can still be involved.

Next Steps This workshop was one component of a larger community engagement process. Participants expressed likes, dislikes, and concerns about the various subscription models and solar project designs. These sentiments should inform future community engagement processes for community solar projects in the Northland Beltline Corridor neighborhood. The feedback from this workshop will be used to plan the next community solar event in the summer of 2018.


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Recommendations and Implementation Strategy The following are recommendations for moving forward on developing a community solar project in the Northland Beltline Corridor. Recommendations include key next steps as well as considerations for future project development.

I. Recommendations for Next Steps Create a leadership team and structure with clear roles and a contact person Who will be involved in carrying this project forward should be made clear within the next few weeks to ensure that the process continues. We recommend that clear roles and expectations be set by parties acting as a lead on this project as well as an agreed upon contact person for outward facing activities.

Expand recruitment boundary to include the Masten District To inform and target outreach, there is a need to clearly define the geographic area of eligibility to participate in a community solar program. Though recruitment should begin with the Northland Corridor Neighborhood, customers within the same utility service area and load zone are able to participate in a given project based on Net Metering Statutes. Broader recruitment would allow interested community members in adjacent neighborhoods to participate and provide a wider audience for attracting subscribers.

Develop an online platform to host the materials and information generated by students Over the past semester, information and materials have been gathered which are useful for explaining what community solar is and how it may work. In order to reach a broader audience and allow those who have shown interest to easily share materials and their knowledge with neighbors, this material should be made available digitally. This should recognize Project Rainfall as a collaborator and possible host. We recommend considering the Western NY Environmental Alliance Website, as it is an active page and affiliated with one of the project partners. Continue outreach process with a social event to be held in mid-July In order to submit a proposal for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) Pre-Development grant, the project must have at least 10 interested participants. To meet this goal, the project leadership team should host an informal event to share information and gain interest. Working towards an event in mid July, recruitment activities should include the following: • Develop a recruitment plan • Organize a communications/advertising campaign, including social media and community hubs (i.e. library, community centers) • Engage past workshop attendees to help plan the event and spread the word • Recruit participants through church networks, youth group networks, block club networks and connect with the Councilman.


Community Solar Conversations

• Build relationships with local businesses and community stakeholder groups that might want to be involved, or serve as organizational sponsors • Work with interested youth from Groundwork Buffalo, Massachusetts Ave Project (MAP), PS 197 Math Science Technology (MST) Preparatory School, or other organization to serve as ambassadors of project

One-on-one outreach with community leaders To access existing networks in the community, the leadership team should meet with community leaders to share project goals and events. Information can then be shared through these networks while providing the leadership team with more insight into existing community activities and needs.

Apply for NYSERDA Pre-Development grant in August of 2018 We recommend that Project Rainfall act as the lead on a Affordable Solar Pre-Development and Technical Assistance Grant through New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). The proposal should be created by the leadership team and submitted in August of 2018. If the application is successful, the grant will be used to fund pre-development activities which would include further recruitment, developing community design guidelines and creating service model structures.


II. Recommendations for Model and Design Develop a subscription model which is adaptable to changing circumstances Based on initial community input, there are concerns about flexibility. Building from this small sample needs and wants should continue to be collected in order to determine the appropriate sponsorship model fit for the community, that will be adaptable to changing neighborhood conditions.

Consider a tax equity flip structure In a tax equity flip structure, an organization would partner with an investor to own and manage the project. After at least 5 years, the project can flip back to the organization. At this point, the organization would have the ability to buy back the project fully or portions of it. This type of structure allows a project to be funded with the eventual transition to community ownership. Based on community input, community ownership is appealing but capital costs seem prohibitive. The Northland Beltline Taxpayers Association (NBTA) acts as the nonprofit sponsor with the long term goal of transitioning to community ownership.

Create long-term community vision for the site/ project If the pre-development grant application is accepted, the project team will be able to work on developing a long-term community vision for the Project Rainfall site and community

Community Solar Conversations

solar project in the Northland Beltline Corridor. The team may want to consider ways to leverage synergies that may result from the FEW (food-energy-water) nexus at Project Rainfall for opportunities for collaboration and investment. The project team, including engaged community members, may wish to consider long-term ways to engage in advocacy to influence policy that might provide additional funding or decrease regulatory barriers to the components of the FEW nexus.

The following table presents each action along with the people, resources and time involved.

Continue to gather community input on service models and design guidelines Through the two workshops, we gathered initial input on service models and design from a small number of community members. These included favoring nonprofit and community ownership service models. To best reflect values and needs, input from a broader community should be sought. If received, the NYSERDA Pre-Development Grant could support community outreach and engagement activities to develop service models and design guidelines that are driven by community members.

Develop design guidelines for solar developers Building on existing community input, a set of physical design guidelines for a community solar installation should be created to guide the solar development process. This should include consideration of how green infrastructure could be included in design to provide additional benefits of cooling and stormwater management.


Table 5: Recommended Long-term Actions #



Resources Needed



Create a leadership team and structure with clear goals and a contact person.

Project partners; Interested and committed community members

leadership time

June 2018


Expand recruitment boundary to include Masten District.

Leadership team

Leadership time

June 2018


Host materials and information online to make information sharable digitally.

Leadership team

Access to an existing website; team member with capacity to manage; materials produced by Studio students.

July 2018


Continue recruitment with a social event in mid July of 2018.

Leadership team

Leadership time; funds to support an event; Participant time

Ongoing through July of 2018


Build relationships with businesses and community institutions that may be interested.

Leadership team; Community and business leaders

Leadership time

Ongoing through July of 2018


Engage youth from organizations such as Groundwork Buffalo, MAP, MST etc.

Leadership team; Leadership time Groundwork Buffalo; MAP; MST community

Ongoing through July of 2018


Apply for NYSERDA pre-development grant.

Leadership team; interested participants

Meeting time

August 2018


Continue to gather input on service models and guidelines.

Leadership team; participants

NYSERDA Pre-Development grant

In first 6 month of grant period


Create a long term community vision for the site and project.

Project team; participants

NYSERDA Pre-Development grant

In first 6 months of grant period


Consider models which are adaptable to changing circumstances.

Leadership team; participants

NYSERDA Pre-development Grant; meeting time

During project development; Pending Pre-Development grant


Develop community design guidelines to be given to solar developers.

Leadership team; participants

NYSERDA Pre-Development Grant; meeting time

In month 6-12 of grant period

Community Solar Conversations

III. Funding Opportunities The New York State Energy Research and Development Agency (NYSERDA) pre-development grant is the primary funding source identified to further this project. Partners should stay up to date on programs and future opportunities that come through the NY-Sun program (Making Solar Affordable for All New Yorkers) and NYSERDA. Additional opportunities for financing should be explored based on brownfield and historic tax credit opportunities.

Brownfield Opportunities The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a program which seeks to promote use of contaminated land for renewable energy called the Re-Powering America’s Land Initiative. Opportunities may emerge through this program for financing community solar projects (U.S. EPA, 2016). More locally, the Erie County Industrial Development Agency (ECIDA) could assist with project financing, as they have assisted other projects in utilizing funding for brownfield remediation in Buffalo.

Credit which can then cover 40% of qualified rehabilitation expenditures” (Preservation League of New York State. n.d.). The National Park Service created the historic preservation guidelines for New York State which requires placement be done with minimal impact on the roofing structure. In addition, the building character must be preserved by placing the solar panels in locations with limited or no visibility from the three bounding streets of E. Delavan, Winchester, and Northland Avenues (Moss, 2018). Each street is situated at varying differences that affect placement and visibility depending on panel heights due to possible variation in panel tilt angles. Recommended tilt angles for this region are between 23˚ and 30˚, these angles dramatically reduce the volume of roof surface available for potential solar panel placement to just below 50 percent for a 23˚ tilt angle and near 25 percent for 30˚ tilt angles. The guidelines provide an element of ambiguity, which may increase roof space availability for solar installations.

Historic Tax Credit Opportunities Solar panel placement on the Project Rainfall building must not jeopardize the ability to use New York State historic tax credits for the project. As a commercial site, Project Rainfall may be able to leverage the New York State Historic Commercial Properties Tax Credit to “cover up to 20% of qualified rehabilitation costs up to a credit value of $5 million. The state credit must be combined with the 20% Federal Historic Preservation Commercial Tax 67

Conclusion Although community solar was the driving force of the studio’s community workshops, we recognize that challenges surrounding affordable, efficient, and clean energy do not exist in a vacuum. Rather, understanding the food-energy-water (FEW) nexus allows us to see the connections between energy and other vital aspects of people’s everyday lives. Our ability to create sustainable communities relies on our capacity to understand the FEW nexus and how to create an interdependent system (or positive feedback loop) that fosters more healthy and inclusive environments. Ideally, placing solar panels on or around the Project Rainfall site would be a first step in addressing convergent needs for healthy food and affordable, efficient energy in the Northland Beltline Corridor. However, there is not enough data to support any conclusive statements about the capacity of reduced electricity bills to elicit cheaper food prices and more healthy food consumption. If the convergence of food and energy through Project Rainfall is not the best model for achieving greater food affordability for the neighborhood, planners, community stakeholders, and community residents will need to work together to brainstorm alternative models. Still, the convergence of food, energy, and water systems may offer alternative benefits in the Northland Beltline community, including but not limited to the strengthening of social bonds and the creation of living wage jobs. Overall, this project was conducted in hopes of establishing a model for community solar that can be replicated in communities across Buffalo, as well as the state. Through collaborations with community stakeholders

Community Solar Conversations

and residents, the practicum was able to increase awareness of renewable energy and provide examples for how community solar could be a viable option in the Northland Beltline Corridor. Working closely with Beverly Crowell of the Northland Beltline Taxpayers Association, the practicum facilitated an initial workshop to discuss introductory material on community solar. The second workshop was dedicated to addressing unanswered questions from workshop one and gathering a sense of the community solar design guidelines that residents were most interested in. In completing this process, we found five recurring themes regarding the community’s expectations of community solar: (1) community solar should provide a cost saving opportunity for community members; (2) community solar should provide physical and monetary investment in the neighborhood; (3) outreach strategies should include churches and block groups and outreach materials should be clear and persuasive; (4) initial buy-in to community solar should be affordable to neighborhood residents; and (5) community solar should be a community-driven project. Along with the financial benefits of community solar, this community engagement process revealed how deeply the community values design. Solar parking lots, sculptures, and shaded picnic areas were among the community’s most favored designs. The community workshops hosted by the studio and the Northland Beltline Taxpayers Association (NBTA) were hopefully the first steps in a more elaborate process to increase awareness about community solar, and garner support for the establishment of a shared solar


Community Solar Conversations

system in the community. To move this process forward, we first recommend the establishment of a leadership team that is responsible for maintaining community dialogue. This team would be responsible for overseeing the development of an online platform to distribute informative materials, as well as recruit the necessary amount of participants needed to apply for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) Pre-Development grant in August of 2018. If the community is able to advance through this process, it is recommended that the community establish design guidelines and consider the implementation of a sponsorship model in which the NBTA acts as the nonprofit sponsor, with the long term goal of transitioning to community ownership.



Community Solar Conversations

Ahern, J. 2011. From fail-safe to safe to fail. Sustainability and resilience in the new urban world. Landscape and Urban Planning 100:341-343. Augustine, P., & McGavisk, E. 2016. The next big thing in renewable energy: Shared Solar. The Electricity Journal, 29(4), 36-42. 10.1016/j.tej.2016.04.006 Barnes, M., & Schmitz, P. 2016. Community Engagement Toolkit, in: Community Engagement Matters (Now More Than Ever). Stanford Social Innovation Review, 32-39. Bizikova, L., Roy, D., Swanson, D., Venema, H. D., & McCandless, M. (2013). The water-energy-food security nexus: Towards a practical planning and decision-support framework for landscape investment and risk management. Winnipeg, Manitoba: International Institute for Sustainable Development. Brulle, Robert J., and David N. Pellow. 2005. Environmental Justice: Human Health and Environmental Inequalities. Annual Review of Public Health 27: 103–24. Bullard, Robert D., and Carl Anthony. 2007. Chapter 1: Smart Growth Meets Environmental Justice. In Growing Smarter: Achieving Livable Communities, Environmental Justice, and Regional Equity, 1–43. MIT Press. City of Buffalo Office of Strategic Planning. 2006. City of Buffalo Comprehensive Plan: the Queen City in the 21st Century. Retrieved from cob_comprehensive_plan/index.html City of Buffalo. 2016. Northland Neighborhood Strategy. Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency. Retrieved from DRAFT.pdf City of Buffalo Office of Strategic Planning. 2016. Buffalo Green Code: Land Use Plan. Retrieved from Coleman, Kieran, Thomas Koch Blank, Curtis Probst, and Jeff Waller. 2017. Financing Communi ty- Scale Solar. Rocky Mountain Institute. Coughlin, Jason, Jennifer Grove, Linda Irvine, Janet F. Jacobs, Sarah Johnson Phillips, Leslie Moynihan, and Joseph Wiedman. 2010. A Guide to Community Solar. U.S. DOE Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy. Ellison, Kathleen. n.d. Sonoji Sakai Intermediate. Clean Energy Bright Futures. https://www.solar4r 73

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Energysage. n.d. Community Solar: Pricing Models. solar/pricing-models/. Environmental Law and Policy Center. nd. Transforming Brownfields to Brightfields (B2B). Accessed April 3, 2018. Erie County Department of Environment and Planning. 2017. Erie County Green Team and Climate Action & Sustainability Plan. Retrieved from php?q=erie-county-green-team-and-climate-action-amp-sustainability-plan Feldman, D., Margolis, R., Brockway, A., & Ulrich, E. 2015. Shared solar: Current landscape, market potential, and the impact of federal securities regulation; National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Felson, Alexander J.,Mark A. Bradford, and Timothy M. Terway. 2013. Promoting Earth Stewardship through urban design experiments. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 11 (7):362-367. Flint, Adam. (2018, February). Class Presentation. presented at the meeting of Urban Ecology Studio, Buffalo. Funkhouser, E., Blackburn, G., Magee, C., & Rai, V. 2015. Business model innovations for deploying distributed generation: The emerging landscape of community solar in the U.S.Energy Research & Social Science, 10, 90-101. 10.1016/j.erss.2015.07.004 Godschalk, David R. 2003. Urban hazard mitigation: creating resilient cities. Natural Hazards Review 4(3),136-143. Goodbody, Steve. 2016. Building Solar Projects on Brownfields Is Hard Work. But There’s Massive Upside to Getting It Right. Greentech Media. building-solar-projects-on-brownfields-is-hard-work. Gunderson, I., S. Goyette, A. Gago-Silva, L. Quiquerez, and A. Lehmann. 2015. Climate and Land-Use Change Impacts on Potential Solar Photovoltaic Power Generation in the Black Sea Region. Environmental Science & Policy 46 (February): 70–81. envsci.2014.04.013. Hale, James, Corrine Knapp, Lisa Bardwell, Michael Buchenau, Julie Marshall, Fahriye Sancar, and Jill S. Litt. (2011). Connecting food environments and health through the relational nature of aesthetics: Gaining insight through the community gardening experience. Social Science and Medicine 72(11): 1853-1863. 74

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Hansen, Rieke and Stephan Pauleit. From Multifunctionality to Multiple Ecosystem services? A Conceptual Framework for Multifunctionality in Green Infrastructure Planning for Urban Area? AMBIO 2014, 43:516-529 Kaufman, Jerome L. and Martin Bailkey. (2000). Farming inside cities: Entrepreneurial urban agriculture in the United States. Cambridge, MA: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. Lovell, Sarah Taylor and John R. Taylor. 2013. Supplying urban ecosystem services through multifunctional green infrastructure in the United States. Landscape Ecology 28: 1447-1463. Ma, S., M. Goldstein, A. J. Pitman, N. Haghdadi, and I. MacGill. 2017. Pricing the Urban Cooling Benefits of Solar Panel Deployment in Sydney, Australia. Scientific Reports 7 (March): 1–6. MacArthur, J. L. 2016. Challenging public engagement: participation, deliberation and power in renewable energy policy. Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, 6(3), 631-640. Macknick, Jordan, Brenda Beatty, and Graham Hill. 2013. Overview of Opportunities for Co-Location of Solar Energy Technologies and Vegetation. National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Macknick, Jordan, Laura Caspari, and Rob Davis. 2017. Co-Location of Solar and Agriculture: Benefits and Tradeoffs of Low-Impact Solar Development. energy/pdf/Solar-Agriculture-Co-location-Webinar-final-1.compressed.pdf. Masson, Valéry, Marion Bonhomme, Jean-Luc Salagnac, Xavier Briottet, and Aude Lemonsu. 2014. Solar Panels Reduce Both Global Warming and Urban Heat Island. Frontiers in Environmental Science 2 (14): 1–10. Matasci, S. 2017. The Health & Environmental Benefits of Solar Energy. Retrieved from https://news. McLoud, Haley. 2015. The Future of Brightfields in North Carolina. UNC Environmental Law Symposium. Retrieved from Moore-O’Leary Kara A, Hernandez Rebecca R, Johnston Dave S, Abella Scott R, Tanner Karen E, Swanson Amanda C, Kreitler Jason, and Lovich Jeffrey E. 2017. Sustainability of Utility-scale Solar Energy – Critical Ecological Concepts. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 15 (7): 385–94. Morley, David. n.d. Recycling Land for Solar Energy Development. American Planning Association. Accessed April 3, 2018. 75

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National Geographic Society. 2011. Urban Heat Island. National Geographic Society. January 21, 2011. Moss, L. (2018, March 29). Phone interview. The Solar Foundation. National Solar Jobs Census. 2017. Accessed April 5, 2018. New York Power Authority. 2015. Five Cities Energy Plan: City of Buffalo. Retrieved from five-cities/2015-01-31-buffaloenergyplan.pdf New York State. 2018. NY-Sun: Making Solar Affordable for all New Yorkers. Accessed March 26, 2018. Retrieved from Programs/ NY-Sun. NYSERDA. 2018. Affordable Solar Predevelopment and Technical Assistance, New York State: 1-8 New York State. 2016. Reforming The Energy Vision. New York State: 1-12. Nunez, Christina. 2013. Turning Brownfields Into Brightfields With Solar. Retrieved from http:// with-solar/. Pearce, Joshua M., Anna L. Santini, and Jennifer M. DeSilva. 2009. Solar Photovoltaic Energy for Mitigation of Climate Change: A Catalytic Application of Catholic Social Thought. Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture & Ecology 13 (1): 92–118. Pitt, D., & Bassett, E. 2013. Collaborative planning for clean energy initiatives in small to mid-sized cities. Journal of the American Planning Association, 79(4), 280-294. Preservation League of New York State. n.d. Historic Preservation Tax Credits. Retrieved from Raj, Subhashni, Samina Raja, and Bree Dukes. 2016. Beneficial but constrained: Role of urban agriculture programs in supporting healthy eating among youth. Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, 12(3), 406-428. Regional Planning Consortium. 2013. Western New York Regional Sustainability Plan. Retrieved from


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Sabol, P. 2016. From Power to Empowerment: Plugging Low Income Communities Into The Clean Energy Economy. Groundswell. Sharifi, A., & Yamagata, Y. 2016. Principles and criteria for assessing urban energy resilience: A literature review. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 60, 1654-1677. Social Planning and Research Council of British Columbia (SPARC). 2013. Community Engagement Toolkit. Burnaby, BC: SPARC Solar United Neighbors. Solar Jobs. n.d. Solar United Neighbors. Accessed April 5, 2018. Solar Schools. 2017. The Solar Foundation. Accessed April 5, 2018. Retrieved from https://www. Union of Concerned Scientists. n.d. Benefits of Renewable Energy Use. Accessed April 3, 2018. University at Buffalo Regional Institute, State University of New York at Buffalo, School of Architecture and Planning. 2014. One Region Forward: A New Way to Plan for Buffalo Niagara. Retrieved from Plan-For-Buffalo-. U.S. DOE Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy. 2005. Brightfields: Redeveloping Brownfields with Solar Energy. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2008. Reducing urban heat islands: Compendium of strategies. Draft. US EPA, OSWER. 2014. Overview of the Brownfields Program.” Overviews and Factsheets. US EPA. January 8, 2014. U.S Environmental Protection Agency. 2016. Community Solar An Opportunity to Enhance Sustainable Development on Landfills and Other Contaminated Sites. Re-Powering America’s Land Initiative. epa_repowering_community_solar_discussion_paper_final_120716_508.pdf Vitiello, Domenic and Laura Wolf-Powers. 2014. Growing food to grow cities? The potential of agriculture for economic and community development in the urban United States, Community Development Journal, 49(4): 508–523. 77

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Warren, Emily, Sophie Hawkesworth, and Cécile Knai. 2015. Investigating the association between urban agriculture and food security, dietary diversity, and nutritional status: A systematic literature review” Food Policy 53: 54-66. Wiser, Ryan, Dev Millstein, Trieu Mai, Jordan Macknick, Alberta Carpenter, Stuart Cohen, Wesley Cole, Bethany Frew, and Garvin Heath. 2016. The Environmental and Public Health Benefits of Achieving High Penetrations of Solar Energy in the United States. Energy 113 (October): 472–86. Wisher, Patricia. 2017. Solar Brightfields: Gigawatts Of Clean Energy Potential On America’s Landfills And Brownfields. energy-potential-on-americas-landfills-and-brownfields. Zipp, Kathie. 2017. From Brownfields to Brightfields. Solar Power World. March 20, 2017. https://www.


Community Solar Conversations

Appendices I. Contact Information for Case Studies Name of Project


Edmonds Community Solar Cooperative

Edmonds, Washington

Sponsorship Community -owned, through Sustainable Edmonds; supported by Tangerine Power and City of Edmonds

Contact Person

Contact Email/ Phone

Todd Cloutier, 425.760.4653 Project CoordiSustainable nator for SustainEdmonds@gmail. able Edmonds com Carrie Hite, Director, Department of Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Services, City of Edmonds

http://tangerinepower. com/ edmonds

https://tinyurl. com/y8j6zysj

Fruit Belt Neighborhood Solar Project

Buffalo, New UtilityYork owned

National Grid Customer Service


Jefferson Park Seattle City Light

Seattle, Washington

Utility Energy Advisors


School 77 - PUSH Buffalo

Buffalo, New Third PartyYork owned: Nonprofit



http://www. edmondswa. gov/energy/ community-solar.html

http://www. SCLEnergy light/ energy/commsolar.asp 716.886.1780

Shiloh North Temple Minneapolis, International Minnesota Solar Garden

Community- owned, through larger LLC (Cooperative Energy Futures)

Bruce Konewko


Cooperative Energy Futures Site and Sales Manager

bruce@cooperativeenergyfutures. com

Southern Tier BinghampSolar Works ton, New York

Third Partyowned: Nonprofit

Ebony Jackson

607.873.9220 communitysolar/shiloh-csg/

http://southerntiersolarCommunity Solar Ambassador

Soveren Brattleboro, Solar Vermont Vermont Community Solar Projects

Third Partyowned: Forprofit

Anna Bowler

802.869.2500 anna@soveren community-solar-vt/

Community Solar Conversations

II. Community Solar: Workshop One Glossary of Terms Community Shared Solar: A solar-electric system that provides energy and/or financial benefit to multiple community members (usually in the form of credits on their electric bills). Net Metering: The system by which power is sold from a small generator (like solar panels on a home) back to a utility at the going rate for electrical power. Virtual Net Metering: The system by which power is sold from a community solar system to a utility. Subscribers of the community solar system receive credits on their electric bill for the energy produced by their share of the community solar system. Solar Panels/Photovoltaic (PV) Array: An energy system that converts solar energy into electrical energy (also known as a PV array or solar array). Host Site: The physical space where the solar system is installed. Power Grid: The physical infrastructure of our energy system and the connections between its different component parts. Generation: The parts of our energy system that create electrical energy, such as power plants, hydro electric dams and solar panels. Transmission: In a traditional electrical grid, energy is generated at large facilities and transported to consumption hubs at very high voltage. Transmission infrastructure (such as cables) transports energy to these hubs. Distribution: The component of the grid that connects to our homes and businesses, after the electricity has been converted to a usable voltage. Substation: A set of equipment that transforms the high voltage of electrical power transmission to low voltage electricity suitable for supply to consumers. Kilowatt Hour (kWh): A measure of electrical energy used by utilities. The average home in New York State uses 603 kilowatt-hours of energy per month. Subscriber: People who sign up to receive credits from a community shared solar system. Project sponsor: An entity that owns, operates and manages a solar system. Utility: A companies that owns and maintains transportation and distribution infrastructure, such as National Grid.


Community Solar Conversations

III. Community Solar: Workshop Two Glossary of Terms Community Shared Solar: A solar-electric system that provides energy and/or financial benefit to multiple community members (usually in the form of credits on their electric bills). Net Metering: The system by which power is sold from a small generator (like solar panels on a home) back to a utility at the going rate for electrical power. Solar Panels/Photovoltaic (PV) Array: An energy system that converts solar energy into electrical energy. (Also Known as a PV array or solar array.) Ground-mounted solar: A solar array installed on land; used primarily for large-scale solar projects such as power plants that generate power for thousands of homes and businesses.. Solar Power Plant: A large-scale, usually ground-mounted solar array. Mounting Hardware: The racking and mounting equipment used to secure solar panels to rooftops (or to trackers in ground mounted power plant installations) and to each other; often made with lightweight aluminum frames and clips capable of withstanding the elements while minimizing impact to the roof. Solar Design: The layout and orientation of a solar system, optimized for maximum energy production based on roof or land characteristics, the angle of the sun, shading climate and aesthetic appeal. Renewable Energy: Energy generated from sources that naturally continually renew themselves, such as sunlight, wind, geothermal heat or tidal movement. Landscape Sustainability: Capacity of the landscape to consistently provide long term, landscape-specific ecosystem services essential for maintain and improving human well-being. Landscape Services: Benefits humans derive from the landscape. Green Infrastructure: A strategically planned and managed network of natural lands, working landscapes, and open space that provide a range of diverse benefits. Community Greening: Community-based effort to transform underutilized sites into valuable green spaces such as community gardens. Multifunctional Landscape: Landscapes that provide a range of beneficial functions to meet cultural, ecological and economic needs, considering the needs and preferences of the owners and users. 81

Community Solar Conversations

IV. Additional Resources Renewable Energy Name of Entity/Resource



National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)

Research on energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies

Reforming the Energy Vision (REV)

A comprehensive strategy for clean, resilient, and affordable energy in NY

NY-Sun Solar Guidebook for Local Governments All%20Programs/Programs/ NY%20Sun/Communities%20 and%20Local%20Governments/ Solar%20Guidebook%20for%20 Local%20Governments

Tool for local governments to use for solar energy development

Department of Energy SunShot Initiative solar/sunshot-initiative

Initiative to reduce the cost of solar energy

Energy Democracy Alliance

Works to advance a just transition to a clean energy economy in NYS

Funding Opportunities Name of Entity/Resource



Affordable Solar Pre-Development and Technical Assistance Program All%20Programs/Programs/ NY%20Sun/Communities%20 and%20Local%20Governments/ Predevelopment%20and%20 Technical%20Assistance

Funding source for solar projects that will expand access to solar benefits to low-to-moderate income households

Brownfields Federal Partnerships

Incentives to solar developers to develop brownfields into ‘brightfields’

NY-SUN All-Programs/Programs/NY-Sun

Programs to make solar energy more accessible and affordable

Erie County Industrial Development Agency (ECIDA)

Provides resources that encourage business growth

Goldman Sachs Low Carbon Economy our-thinking/new-energy-landscape/low-carbon-economy/

Finance projects that develop market-based solutions to environmental issues

Community Solar Conversations

Community Solar Name of Entity/Resource



Coalition for Community Solar Access

Works to expand access to local, clean, affordable energy through community solar in the U.S.

Community Solar Policy Decision Matrix uploads/2017/12/Community-Solar-Policy-Decision-Matrix-2017.pdf

Guide for developing community solar programs

A Guide to Community Solar fy11osti/49930.pdf

Guide for developing community solar programs

Name of Entity/Resource



Northland Neighborhood Strategy NorthlandNeighborhoodStrategyDRAFT.pdf

Summary of BUDC’s community engagement process in the Northland Beltline

Queen City in the 21st Century

http://www.oneregionforward. org/plan/queen-city-in-the-21stcentury-comprehensive-plan/

City of Buffalo’s Comprehensive Plan

The Queen City Hub uploads/2012/12/QueenCityHubVol_1.pdf

A Regional Plan for Downtown Buffalo

City of Buffalo Land Use Code September2016/LUP/lup_ revised_sept2016.pdf

The recently adopted land use plan

A New Way to Plan for Buffalo Niagara

http://www.oneregionforward. org/the-plan/

One Region Forward’s Regional Plan for Sustainable Development

Western New York Regional Sustainability Plan (2013) uploads/2013/06/Western-New-York-Regional-Sustainability-Plan.pdf

Plan to promote sustainable growth in WNY

Plans and Policies

Community Solar Conversations

State and Local Resources Name of Entity/Resource



Project Rainfall news/article:02-23-2017-1200am-project-rainfall/

Local food systems social enterprise

Western New York Environ- mental Alliance (WNYEA)

Coalition of organizations that represent the environmental voice of WNY

Groundwork Buffalo

Work locally to make positive and meaningful change for communities

Buffalo Urban Development Corporation (BUDC)

Nonprofit that reclaims distressed land for future development

University at Buffalo Regional Institute (UBRI)


Supports planning efforts in local communities

Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency (BURA)

Promotes neighborhood-driven development that enhances quality of life

Buffalo’s Fruit Belt Neighborhood Solar Partnership Buffalo-Fruit-Belt-Neighborhood-Solar-Partnership

Local example of an affordable, clean energy project

PUSH Buffalo

Local community organization that works to create strong neighborhoods


http://www.pushgreenwny. org

Community-based energy efficiency program

One Region Forward

Promotes sustainable development in Erie and Niagara counties

Erie County Department of Public Works

Provides safe, functional roadways and bridges

The Buffalo Green Code

Land use and development strategies

City of Buffalo Office of Strategic Planning Work to improve Buffalo’s neighborHome/City_Departments/ hoods Office_of_Strategic_Planning

Five Cities Energy Program

Municipal energy plan to save money and reduce emissions

Southern Tier Solar Works

Nonprofit solar developer

Binghamton Regional Sustainability Coalition

Work to improve the quality of life in the Binghamton region

The Clean Air Coalition of WNY

Grassroots efforts to improve local environmental justice and public health

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